We have, so far, read forty pages of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres. Jane Smiley, the author, is a highly intellectual person holding three graduate degrees garnered at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and English Department. Before reading A Thousand Acres, readers (including myself) would assume that the language would be complex and tangled, but our expectations were trumped by her clean word choices and illuminating details of rural Iowa. Critics have compared A Thousand Acres to King Lear, but state that this version is much easier to analyze and comprehend.
King Lear and A Thousand Acres are very similar in the way they are structured. King Lear starts out by testing his children’s love, while Larry Cook distributes his farmland amongst his daughters. Cordelia and Caroline reject their father’s choices. Both fathers have madness (Lear has Lewy-Body Dementia while Larry is a continuing alcoholic) that makes reader view them in a negative light. Many critics have analyzed their insanity as a negative reaction to Cordelia and Caroline’s rejections. However, the main difference between the two stories is that Larry’s illness is self-induced – he is bringing his pain upon himself by essentially drinking to death. Ginny and Rose sympathize with their father’s condition while Caroline essentially punishes him for his instability and desolation.
We as readers need to examine their relationship as we continue to read further. This relationship is the essential part of the novel. This is the psychological battle between wealth (in farmland acres) and emotions.