Liam DohertyMr McgrathBardolatry1/6/18A thousand Acres and King Lear comparison Essay Shakespeare’s King lear is the story of an old king’s path to humility and acumen through a series of betrayals and epiphanies.
Jane Smiley’s novel A Thousand Acres builds off many of King Lear’s notorious themes in a modern day adaptation. Jane replaces King lear, his kingdom and three daughters with a Larry Cook, his thousand acre farm, and his three daughters. Similar to King Lear, A thousand acres follows the relationships between Larry Cook and his daughters (Ginny, Rose and Caroline) after he divides his land amongst them. Both stories have their clear distinctions and Smiley takes the liberty of adapting prevalent themes such as compassion and rapprochement, appearance versus reality, and the role of women in a culture dominated by men. The alterations Smiley makes come to light when examining the parallels between the characters in both novels, specifically the father daughter relationship.
Smiley uses Shakespeare’s King Lear as a template to build off the major themes in her own novel A Thousand Acres. The idea of appearance versus reality is one Shakespeare explores in many of works of literature naturally, it is prevalent in King Lear and henceforth A Thousand Acres. As the story begins we see Lear deceived by Goneril and Regan’s false love professions and flattery when he decides to relinquish his power. However, when Lear’s third daughter Cordelia refuses to join the false adulation simply stating she loves him as her father, she is banished from the kingdom. While Goneril and Regan may appeared sincere, we later learn their true and sinister intentions while Cordelia has a “purer” love for her father. Therefore we see Lear’s inability to discern appearance versus Reality. In Contrast to King Lear, Caroline (Cordelia’s parallel) does not exhibit the same pure love for her father.
However, she views Larry in a different light then her sisters as she was protected from what Rose and Ginny had to endure. Larry Cook has the appearance of an incredibly successful farmer and kind hearted father, there is a much darker side to him. From a young age, Ginny and Rose were sexually molested by Larry but did all in their power to spare Caroline from such abuse. As Caroline is ignorant to this fact, she condemns Ginny saying “I realize some people are just evil” (363). Caroline demonstrates her inability to see past the appearance and into the reality although this really isn’t her fault. Despite this, Ginny and Rose continue to keep the secret to spare Caroline’s emotions. The theme of appearance versus reality is distinct in both King Lear and A Thousand Acres which is embodied in both the actions and words of Caroline and Cordelia. While there are many parallels to be drawn between the twin characters in A Thousand Acres and King Lear however, they each have their distinct differences that makes A Thousand Acres unique in its adaptations of the themes Shakespeare addressed.
For example, initially Lear is an arrogant and foolish man but with the help of many harsh life lessons occurring throughout the play, he learns humility. This is seen when he is travelling with the fool and remarks on the state of the poor “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are, /That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, /How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides…Oh, I have ta’e /Too little care of this!” (III,iv,28-30). We see Lear demonstrating compassion as he worries about the less fortunate. Lear’s newfound compassion and wisdom leads to his reconciliation with Cordelia. In contrast with A Thousand Acres, Larry refuses to acknowledge the severe degree of his abuse.
Therefore Larry remains ignorant and foolish up until the point he loses his mind “Daddy thinks history starts fresh every day, every minute… that’s how he keeps betraying us, why he roars at us with such conviction” (320). Larry, a man lost in his sinful ways never gains reconciliation with his daughters. Smiley does this to show the opposite outcome of Shakespeare’s theory that compassion and humility leads to reconciliation.
The role of women in a patriarchal society is a topic discussed in both works of literature heavily, but with entirely different perspectives. In both families, there is the absence of a mother figure which puts emphasis on the power fathers had in patriarchal societies. In King Lear the evil behavior of the daughters Goneril and Regan suggest the Shakespeare was implying women are evil essentially stating that women have no role in a patriarchal society. Jane Smiley, a known feminist, takes an entirely different approach. Rose and Ginny are both reasonably good people. In this family it is not the daughters committing evil deeds, but the father.
In fact, Ginny and Rose tolerate Larry’s behavior, demonstrating respectable restraint “Of course it was silly to talk about ‘my point of view.’ When my father asserted his point of view, mine vanished. Not even I could remember it” (176). It is clear that from a mans perspective, women should keep their opinions to themselves. This is demonstrated perfectly by Ty telling Ginny to “Settle Down” and that she should just “endure it” (261). To summarize, both writers touch on the fact that women are put down by men in society though they each take opposite stances on the morality of it. In conclusion, Jane Smiley’s book A Thousand Acres builds off many of the significant themes in King Lear but with a more modern approach and perspective.
This is noticeable in the characterization of the parallel characters.