Throughout a Thousand Acres, I feel that Jane Smiley exaggerates Iowan stereotypes to the extreme. In her novel, the reserved and polite personalities of the people, the small town culture, the vast expanses of farmland, and the modest dreams of people, are amplified to a point that becomes non-realistic.
For example, when Ginny describes Zebulon county, she explains how “A mile to the east, you could see three silos that marked the northeastern corner, and if you raked your gaze from the silos to the house and barn, then back again, you would take in the immensity of the piece of land my father owned, six hundred forty acres, a whole section, paid for, no encumbrances, as flat and fertile, black, friable, and exposed as any piece of land on the face of the earth.
Smiley, Jane (2011-01-05). A Thousand Acres: A Novel (pp. 3-4). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
In reality, as an Iowan (born and raised here), Iowa is a pretty hilly state. Ginny being able to see six hundred forty acres of her father’s land is probably an un-realistic description. Jane Smiley describes Iowa as a board flat state when in reality it is quite the contrary. In fact, Iowa doesn’t even rank in the top 10 flattest states in the United States! Click here to see this ranking of the top 10 flattest states by The Atlantic.
Ginny’s, exaggerations of Iowa make her a questionable character and marks her as an unreliable narrator. At first I was confused if Jane Smiley was intentionally having Ginny exaggerating Iowan stereotypes, but as the stereotypes persisted throughout the whole novel, I was getting the impression that Smiley was an unreliable narrator herself. My un-surety of Smiley, led me to research more about her background.
According to the Writing University (click here for the link) Jane Smiley was born in Los Angeles, California, moving to the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, where she attended high school. She later earned her Masters and PhD in Iowa City and taught for a few years in Iowa City. According to the website, she was pulled to Iowa City by her husband who got a job there. She seemed thankful for her time spent in Iowa City saying “ I do not in fact know what I would have done, or who I would have been as an adult if I hadn’t lived in and around Iowa City for nine years”. But is nine years enough time to truly get a well-rounded feel of what Iowa really is like as a state? In my opinion I don’t think so.
Taking into account Jane Smiley’s background is important to understand the perspective of Ginny. Perhaps Smiley’s judgments of Iowa, during her short time living in the state, seeped into Ginny’s views and perspective as a character. Do you think Smiley is over-exaggerating Iowa stereotypes, and do you think her experiences in Iowa molded the trajectory of a thousands acres as a novel?