A Thousand Acres King Lear Essay

For the film adaptation, see A Thousand Acres (film).

A Thousand Acres is a 1991 novel by American author Jane Smiley. It won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1991 and was adapted to a 1997 film of the same name.

The novel is a modernized retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear and is set on a thousand-acre (four hundred hectares) farm in Iowa that is owned by a family of a father and his three daughters. It is told through the point of view of the oldest daughter, Ginny.

Plot summary[edit]

Larry Cook is an aging farmer who decides to incorporate his farm, handing complete and joint ownership to his three daughters, Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. When the youngest daughter objects, she is removed from the agreement. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions, as the story eventually reveals the long-term sexual abuse of the two eldest daughters that was committed by their father.

The plot also focuses on Ginny's troubled marriage, her difficulties in bearing a child and her relationship with her family.

Similarities to King Lear[edit]

There are many similarities between King Lear and A Thousand Acres, including both plot details and character development.[1] For example, some of the names of the main characters in the novel are reminiscent of their Shakespearean counterparts. Larry is Lear, Ginny is Goneril, Rose is Regan, and Caroline is Cordelia. The role of the Cooks' neighbors, Harold Clark and his sons Loren and Jess, also rework the importance of Gloucester, Edgar and Edmund in King Lear.

The novel maintains major themes present in Lear, namely: gender roles, appearances vs. reality, generational conflict, hierarchical structures (the Great chain of being), madness, and the powerful force of nature.[1]

Correspondences between the characters in the novel and in the play[edit]

  • Larry Cook = King Lear
  • Ginny Cook Smith = Goneril
  • Rose Cook Lewis = Regan
  • Caroline Cook Rasmussen = Cordelia
  • Frank Rasmussen = King of France
  • Ty Smith = Duke of Albany
  • Pete Lewis = Duke of Cornwall
  • Jess Clark = Edmund
  • Harold Clark = Earl of Gloucester
  • Loren Clark = Edgar
  • Marv Carson (The Fool)[2]


External links[edit]

Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. S.H. Butcher. New York: Hill and Wang, 1989. For a discussion of tragedy, begin with Aristotle. The concepts are simple and profound.

Cudden, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Fourth edition. London: Penguin Books, 1999. A very good discussion of tragedy and a general help with literary terms, though a bit wordy, full of obscure references, and less readable for students.

Dudley, Kathryn Marie. Debt and Dispossession: Farm Loss in America's Heartland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. An excellent source of information about modern farming.

Holman, C. Hugh and Harmon, William, contributor. Handbook for Literature. Sixth edition. New York: Hungry Minds, Inc., 1992. My favorite literary terms book - simple, concise, and very readable for students.

Nadel, Max and Sherrer, Arthur, Jr. How to Prepare for the AP English Examination. Fifth Edition. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1992. This book has been very useful for students preparing for the advanced placement exam. It also contains an excellent discussion of tragedy and uses Hamlet and Oedipus as examples for discussion.

Skwire, David and Skwire, Sarah E. Writing with a Thesis: A Rhetoric and Reader. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998. This is a decent writing guide, and it has a particularly good section on organization in writing.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Publishing, 1994. This would be a good book to work with Lear and A Thousand Acres. It is a classic that is frequently taught in high school and college.

Aeschylus. Orestia. Trans. Robert W. Fangles. New York: Penguin Books, 1984. While Oedipus and Antigone have been better liked by my students, this is another option for classical tragedy.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Folger Library. Eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992. Great tragedy.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Trans. Bernard M. W. Knox. New York: Washington Square Press, 1972.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Arthur Miller, New York: Penguin Books, 1976. This is a wonderful modern tragedy. Students like the family dynamic and feel like they can understand the difference between the classic and modern tragedy when they read this.

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