Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres." Essay

706 words - 3 pages

Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres" tells a dark tale of a corrupt patriarchalsociety which operates through concealment. It is a story in which the charactersattempt to manipulate one another through the secrets they possess and thesubsequent revelation of those secrets. In her novel, Smiley gives us a verysimple moral regarding this patriarchal society: women who remain financially andemotionally dependent on men decay; those able to break the economic and emotionalchains develop as women and as hum ans.Roots of "A Thousand Acres" can be seen in numerous novels and plays, themost obvious of which is King Lear. The parallels are too great to ignore.Smiley is successful because she fills in so many of the gaps left open in theplay. She gives us new an d different perspectives.One of the particular strengths of the novel lies in its depiction of theplace of women in a predominantly patriarchal culture. In this male dominatedculture, the values privileged in women include silence and subordination. Ginnyis acceptable as a woman as long as she remains "oblivious" (121). She is allowedto disagree with men, contingent upon her doing so without fighting (104).Ultimately, her opinion as a woman remains irrelevant. Ginny remarks, "of courseit was silly to talk about 'my po int of view.' When my father asserted his pointof view, mine vanished" (176). When she makes the "mistake" of crossing herfather, she is referred to as a "bitch," "whore," and "slut" (181, 185).It could be argued that many of the male characters in the novel aresuffering from a type of virgin/whore syndrome. As long as the women remaindocile receptacles they are "good"; when they resist or even question masculineauthority, they are "bad." Rose complains, "When we are good girls and accept ourcircumstances, we're glad about it....When we are bad girls, it drives us crazy"(99). The women have been indoctrinated to the point that they initially buy intoand accept these standards of judgem ent. The type of patriarchy described bySmiley simply serves to show the inscription of the marginalization of women bymen in the novel and in our society.Another strength of the novel is its treatment of secrets and appearances.Like characters in a Lewis or...

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