The Correct Way of Farming

“‘There isn’t any room for the old methods anymore. Farmers who embrace the new methods will prosper, but those that don’t are already stumbling around.’ Doubtless he was looking across the road toward the Ericsons” (Smiley 45).

It has been quite evident from the beginning of the book that the biggest part of almost everyone’s life in this story is farming. Farming is such an important part of Iowa’s history, and there is a reason that some people succeed, while some people simply do not. in this book, Larry is very geared toward one way of farming- his way. If any other farmer does things differently, Larry finds it wrong and he disapproves. He believes that the only way to succeed and prosper in the farming business is to do it the way he does it. Otherwise, people will fail (and he will most likely enjoy it).

I have to disagree with Larry’s opinion about there only being one way to successfully farm land. Coming from small-town Iowa, I know that there are plenty of ways to successfully farm land with different crops, technologies, tools, and equipment. As long as the farmers figure out what method and tools work best for them, they can farm whatever way they feel most comfortable, and they can prosper just as much as anyone else. If people can learn to work with what they have got, and not have to depend on the only one way they are familiar with, no matter what comes their way, they will be able to effectively handle it, as they are prepared and they are flexible.

I feel as if Larry is not flexible. It is either his way or the highway, and if something were to go wrong, or if he had to compensate or work around something, it would be like the end of the world. He seems so routined and so set on his own world that he can never break free to listen to other peoples’ stories about success. Going off of this idea, I found a Timeline of Iowa’s history. This timeline is not just about farming, so it will take a little sifting through, but it speaks of different technologies and farming equipment being introduced throughout history. This just gives people a little bit of an idea of what farming may have been like back in the day a little bit.

Does anyone else agree that there can be many other ways of farming successfully than just one way that does happen to work well?


Seeking Impossibility

“I was uncomfortably aware that my father always sought impossibility […] to discipline the farm and ourselves to a life and order transcending many things, but especially mere whim.” P. 46

Hard order and discipline can be added to one’s life to bring about positive changes to it. This can be implemented into our lives at any given point, be it from our toddler years by our parents, to later into our adult life. And, like any practice, there are those who take it to its most extreme or radical levels. As an example, we’ve all most likely heard about the phrase “tiger moms”, referring to the mothers in this world that enforce very strict, “hyper-disciplined” parenting on their children in order to create a better focus on their academic achievements in their later lives.

This can include severe restrictions on their child’s social lives, diet, and extracurricular activities, instead placing that focus into difficult teaching/tutoring regimens and daily work/chores. This, in these parents’ eyes, would help bolster their child’s work ethic and appreciation for academia. And in a recent article done in TIME, it talks about a specific study done about the effects of that specific style of parenting. The researchers talk about how these methods are implemented as more of a cultural tradition rather than solely for the benefit of the children. And while these methods do garner results in the children’s overall academic achievement, they have also resulted in most of them having self-image and parental relationship problems, more so than that of the White-American families in the study.

Having been raised by my parents (who are south-asian natives that immigrated to the US), I’ve felt the effects of that kind of discipline first-hand, but slightly diluted. All throughout their lives, they came from families that placed a heavy emphasis on their education and future plans. At the same time, however, they didn’t lose sight of their social and extra-curricular lives, understanding that there needed to be a healthy balance of both in order to stay sane.

I felt that this passage really spoke to the amount that this family’s patriarch had cared for the well-being of his family in his own way, and how it may have come across as dysfunction to them. For a while when I was younger, I saw my parents as very controlling and overbearing, seeing as they pushed me harder and harder in my studies while not really allowing me a social life outside of school. As I grew older they became more relaxed about it, of course, but it wasn’t until later that I realized that they had wanted what was best for me, and they were merely using methods previously used by their parents. It was reading about Larry’s systematic and disciplined managing of his family and his farm that truly reminded me of the cycle of cultural upbringing that has always existed in my family.

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Elephant In The Room

“I drove Rose to Mason City for her three month checkup.  We hardly spoke on the way there…Our plan was to shop a little after the hospital, then go to the Brown Bottle for dinner, but our unspoken agreement was that it all depended on the doctor’s appointment.”  Pg. 57.

This sequence of events between Rose and Ginny seemed to be a highlight of what is going on in multiple occasions throughout the book.  Although there are many different issues and confrontations that come up between many different people, it is often swept under the rug and the conversation is avoided even though it is very obvious.  Even with the  characters of Rose and Ginny who seem to be relatively close, the subject of Rose’s cancer is minimally brought up.  This action of hiding feelings and confrontations seems to bring about a lot of secrets and blatant thoughts behind the other person’s back.

Several topics throughout the character’s lives seem to be important events, but are rarely brought up.  It took 50 pages for the narrator to speak about the passing of the girls mother, despite the fact that family and parental roles are a vital theme of the book so far.  Larry and Harold having personalities of a closed book seem heavily influential on the rest of the characters.  I am waiting for the scene where at least one important issue is brought up with the group and brings some emotion the the story, because although there are interesting things going on, the book has not escalated that much.

I believe that there are several relationships between characters that have unspoken conflicts or issues that could and possibly will come about as the book progresses.  Obviously the issues between Larry and Caroline will continue to play a pivotal role in how he disperses his land.  I think as Jess and Ginny continue to dig into each other’s lives, an exciting scene may take place with them.  It seems as though Jess is inching his way towards making something happen between Ginny and himself, as he continues to open up to her.

Lastly, the secret of Ginny and her problems with pregnancy have begun to drift away.  I think that this problem and her frustration will be leading into what might become of her and Jess, or cause a problem between herself and Ty.  I think it will be interesting to see how that situation plays out and how the group, especially Larry, reacts to it.

Do you think that this flatness that we have discussed is purposefully leading towards some dramatic finishes?  Does the story of Ginny’s mother need to be properly and fully addressed to help complete the story?  What conflicts between what characters are the most important, and which ones look like they are going to impact the second half of the book the most?

Whores, Prostitutes, Belly Dancers, and Housewives

“Rose laughed giddily, then exclaimed, ‘There’s a whorehouse in Mason City, did you know that?'” (Smiley, 59).

“‘Rosie, lets eat at Golden Corral and see if we can get a look at what the prostitutes wear to work” (Smiley, 61).

After Rose and Ginny’s visit to the hospital for Rose’s checkup appointment, the two sisters are in good spirits as they discuss ways to celebrate the positive news from Rose’s appointment. Rose’s excitement about the whorehouse indicates an interest in a place where women live much more ‘scandalous’ lives than them. Lives where sex is more explicit. Although she calls it a whorehouse, the word ‘whore’ carrying negative connotations, Rose does not seem entirely turned away from the idea of visiting it. The excitement of the place’s scandalousness piques her interest. She is enticed by the idea of something that she knows is not typically expected of women.

Similarly, when Ginny suggests they eat at a place where they can see how the women dress, she expresses interest in viewing this alternate form of life in which a woman outwardly displays her sexuality. She calls these women prostitutes. Whether they are truly prostitutes or not could indicate either a sense of ignorance of what they really do or a sense of belittling on her behalf. It seems to be sincere interest, yet she still has the option to turn up her chin at this differing, more visibly sexual lifestyle.

Both of the sisters’ curiosity of the women that work in jobs laden with sexuality reveals a deeper interest in their own sexuality. This drew me to review the graphic poem “Belly Dancer” by Diane Wakoski and illustrated by David Heatley. In this poem, the belly dancer is a form of entertainment for the audience. She is expressive and connected to her sexuality. Attending the whorehouse or viewing how the prostitutes dress would be a way of entertainment for Ginny and Rose as well. “Belly Dancer” seems to identify two types of women: women who are comfortable with their sexuality (like the belly dancer) and the women who are not (most women). Despite Ginny and Rose’s interest in going to these places, I suspect they fall into the category of women who are not fully at ease with their sexuality. They would would be the woman illustrated in the audience who keeps herself put together during the belly dancer’s performance.

Despite the fact that Ginny and Rose would most likely be in the audience of “Belly Dancer” rather than on the stage, dancing out their own sexualities, I think their suggestions to visit these places signifies a desire to understand that part of themselves better. This connection allowed me to see how, while Ginny and Rose may seem like they play the roles of typical housewives while their husbands set out to work, they still have parts within them that would like to explore more. Parts that want to explore beyond their sexual and gendered expectations. The thought of other women being so comfortable with these parts of themselves creates wonder within them, and I wonder if these short instances of curiosity will become a trend throughout the novel. Will they continue to ponder what is outside of the gender boundaries set for them, and potentially act upon them? Will they, like the belly dancer, gain and accept the knowledge that their men cannot fully satisfy them, beyond a sexual sense, and take a greater control of their lives?

Don’t Depend On Men

“She doesn’t have to be careful. She’s got an income. Being his daughter is all pretty abstract for her, and I’m sure she wants to keep it that way. Mark my words. She and Frank will get married and produce a son and there’ll be a lot of coming together around that. She always does what she has to do” (Smiley 60).

This quote stood out to me because throughout the story I have noticed how much the women rely on the men in this story. Ginny has always followed her fathers orders and done what was expected of her as a women. She remained in Iowa, a farmer’s wife, and now cooks, cleans, and runs the household. She has no job other than cooking and doing household chores, and therefore relies on her husband for an income. Rose also lives a similar lifestyle. Though I realized this from the very beginning, I wasn’t sure if the characters realized that they live a lifestyle reliant on men until I read this conversation between Ginny and Rose, where it’s obvious they do.

Ginny seems to be unhappy. She says she is happy, but through reading her narrative, I get the feeling that she is not. Then Rose has suffered from breast cancer, which seems to have taken a toll on her body and emotional state. Ginny and Rose both talk about Ty and Peter like they are trying to prove to us that they are happy in their relationships and are therefore happy in life. Meanwhile Caroline, the only one to have her own income and stability, seems to be living a very happy life through fulfilling her dreams and getting things she needs and wants on her own. Caroline has a fiance, but does not talk about him as if she is only happy because she has a man.

After this weeks reading I realized that women who are financially and emotionally dependent on men seem to be living unhappy and decaying lives. However, women who have left the expected lifestyle become strong an independent women. Though Ginny and Rose are in good standing with their father and husbands, based on this analysis, will they end up broken while Caroline, the banished one, will end up truly happy?

Every family has its flaws.

“Where did you get those?” asked Linda. “When we were in Iowa City.”

I’m not even going to pretend that wasn’t one of my favorite lines to read because we live in Iowa City.

We have learned a great deal in these last six chapters that elaborated much more and answered many questions I had from the first seven chapters. One of the greatest advancements is in the mental health of Larry, Ginny’s father. “I drove back to see what you were doing.” “I was reading a magazine.” There were no magazines near his chair, or on the table besides him.–Ginny and Rose spend time during these chapters discussing the mental health of their father and both express a great deal of worry for him. Rose has gone as far as not even letting her children over at his house or letting them answer the door if it is him. This gives makes it easy for, as the reader, to assume he has a serious mental health issue. Whether he has been mentally ill his whole life, or if this is recent we still are not sure. The relationship this has to King Lear makes it extremely exciting to read. I find myself really looking forward to what happens!

These chapters also show us more into the relationship between Ginny and Jess. The chapter where they are at the garden and Ginny is planting tomatoes is where they have a very intimate conversation about Jess’s life and I thought that at any moment they would start kissing! That did not happen BUT who knows what will happen in latter chapters. While reading this chapter though I felt like I was reading the lines from a Continue reading

Ungratefulness and Negativity

From the reading for this week, I have gotten a better understanding about each character. The one who really stuck out to me was Daddy. I feel like the whole family revolves around him, as if he controls and has a strong input on everything his daughters do, besides Caroline. He has a very seriousness and sternness about him. I have friends who have parents that are like that. It makes for awkward situations because my friends are afraid of disappointing their parents, so they tend to walk on egg shells around them. Daddy is uptight and seems to always be complaining about the littlest things.

“He’s full of complaints about what we do” (Smiley, 84).

In my eyes, his daughters do a lot for him and are very hard workers. They don’t always see eye-to-eye with him, but he should be a lot more grateful and less negative towards them.

Another characteristic about Daddy is his sporadic spending and behavior about it. He buys new kitchen cabinets for a thousand dollars and a new couch all in the same week. The part that really surprised me is how he left the wooden cabinets outside, even though he knew it was going to rain. Obviously, rain would damage the wood. SO by leaving that out there, he obviously doesn’t care about the cabinets too much, or he’s lazy and doesn’t want to move them. I think that this just shows how he is becoming crazier and less responsible, just like how King Lear was. What do you think of his actions in this weeks’ reading?

Should Have Seen It Coming

While reading this portion of the novel, a few different things stuck out to me.  The first one is the secrets that are kept from each other.  The second thing that stuck out to me is the fact that Ginny and Rose basically raised Caroline to be who she is today.

Coming from a large family that lives close to each other, I know that there are always secrets in a family.  Clearly we are shown in the first part of the reading that Ginny keeps her miscarriages to herself, so we start to wonder what else she could possibly be keeping from us.  In this section of the reading the thing that stuck out to me the most about secrets is when we were introduced to Mary.  We find out through Ginny’s mothers friend how the mother died of cancer.  Mary tells Ginny all of the ambitions that her mother had for her like not marrying at a young age, going to college and getting away from the farm.  I think it is surprising that Mary had all of these years to tell Ginny but she never got around to doing it.  I think that if Ginny would have known about this that she would have lived her life different.  Mary tells Ginny that her mother was most concerned about her, she says,

“She was most worried about you.  She used to say, ‘Ginny won’t stand up to him’” (Smiley, 92).

It is remarkable that Ginny’s mother was most concerned about her and not about her six year old daughter Caroline.  This adds to Ginny’s characterization and how even at a young age she did not have a backbone to stand up to her father.

Also, in this section, we find out more about how Ginny and Rose raised Caroline.  We are told that Caroline was possible going to be brought to an aunts house to be raised, but Larry thought Ginny and Rose were old enough to be mother figures.  After reading the quote, “My father though, simply declared that Rose and I were old enough to care for our sister, and that was that”(Smiley, 63) I couldn’t help but wonder why Larry himself was not going to take on the responsibility of taking care of his family.  Why would a father trust two young girls to raise a six year old, and basically raise themselves?  Ginny and Rose seemed to give Caroline a lot more freedom then they were given by their father.  They let he go out and expand.  Ginny and Rose were not allowed to do much past the farm, but they gave Caroline the opportunity to go hang out with people and have fun.  They even covered for her.  I feel like giving Caroline that freedom led to Caroline wanting to move and away and go and gave her the idea that she doesn’t need to be cooped up on the farm for the rest of her life.

It’s all very complicated….

Can you believe how they’ve fucked us over, Ginny? Living and dying!”… “Don’t you realize they’ve destroyed us at every turn? (Smiley, 55)

In the few chapters we had to read this week, we learn a lot more about the characters and events in the story that were mostly glossed over in the first 40 pages. We learn more about Rose and her mastectomy and how she feels about that. She does not appear as unaffected as it was implied, and it is revealed that she has been quite worried about her health and that she has a hard time dealing with her appearance after the surgery. We also learn more about Ginny, Rose and Caroline’s elusive mother and her death. We now know that she was sick for a while and that Ginny and Rose spent 2 months looking after her leading up to her death. Jess and the mystery that surrounds him is cleared up a little bit more, and it is revealed that he had a fiance who died, and that he knows almost nothing about his mother, her illness and death. It turns out that he didn’t know she was sick and that she had died till after it had happened, and Ginny realizes that a lot of the judgement against him has been unfounded, and it shakes her a bit. At the end of the conversation, I think that Ginny realizes that there is a bit more than just a ‘friendly neighbours’ connection between them, thinking to herself  “I couldn’t believe that I had ever found his smile merely charming.” I think that this scene was a stepping stone to the start of something between Ginny and Jess.

We learn more about the relationship between Rose, Ginny and Caroline. The two older girls ended up being the mother-figures for Caroline, caring for her and raising her after their mothers death. They tried to give her as normal a life as possible, giving her what they didn’t have and going against a lot of their Dad’s principles. They let her sleep over at friends, go to dances with boys, and did their best to make her clothes that matched those in popular magazines. They protected her from their father’s anger over all of this, and talkedhim into things. It seemed like they lived out their dreams through Caroline, giving her the opportunities and experiences that they wished they could have had, ending with her getting good grades, having large ambitions, and going off as they planned, not as a farmwife but as something “sharper and brighter and more promising.” (p. 64). This shows us a lot about them and how their parents affected them. Their father scared them and they didn’t want to be like him, just please him and keep him at bay, and their mother was brisk and matter-of-fact and not really affectionate. Ginny grew up opposite of both, she was motherly and affectionate and caring, almost desperate for someone to impart that on, trying again and again for children, while Rose was much more like their mother, reserved and more straight to the point. Caroline, mostly raised by her sisters, became something else entirely. She was raised to have the best chance of getting out and she did, but the lack of similarity this resulted in between her and her family made her a bit alienated. She didn’t totally fit in and it ended up with her being shunned by her dad. The more in depth look we got at their past really helps to explain how the girls turned out like they did, and clears up the reasoning behind some of their actions and personality traits.

While these few chapters answered some questions, it also created more. One of those is, what exactly is going on with the girl’s dad? First he is staring intently out at Ty in the fields, refusing to offer any explanation and doing it for hours, then he spends a thousand dollars buying a new kitchen set in response to Harold re-doing his and leaves it sitting out in the rain, ruining it and wasting money (something he doesn’t usually do), and then Rose says that he has been going out in his truck in the morning, driving to towns and cities that are pretty far away (if his purchase of a couch in a town 2hrs away is anything to go by). All of this is really odd behaviour for him, and it really makes you wonder what exactly is going on with him. Is he planning something? Is he going crazy? Another question is: what is going on with Ginny and what is going to happen with her? There seems to be something building with her and Jess, and Mary’s remarks about her mom raises some questions. Her mom was worried about what would happen to her after she died because she knew Ginny wouldn’t stand up to her father, and she hoped that she would get to go to college and go experience life outside of the farm and not marry so young. These allusions to how Ginny’s life could have been makes you wonder whether or not Ginny is really as happy as she seems to be, and if her life is really enough for her because it seems like it might not be with her vested interest in Caroline getting the chance to get out of their way of life and her growing interest in Jess and his life in Canada and Seattle.

I am really interested to see how this story will continue- will Ginny go for Jess? Will Rose and Ginny eventually leave their father and his crazy antics? How will the shift in the sisters dynamic (hatred between them in King Lear and affection in this story) effect the how the story continues and ends?  What is Larry up to? Why is he acting so odd?

A Thousand Acres.. or King Lear?

“Lets just wait a bit longer, Larry.” And he looked out the front door, and so did I, and here came Caroline, across the road from Rose’s up the porch steps.. I opened the door for her. But my father stepped around me and took the door in his hand and slammed it in her face and then he whirled Ken around with a hand on his arm, and said, Now” (Smiley, 39).

This was the last line of our reading for today, and it really left me with a lot of questions about Larry and what was next. I felt like a lot happened in the story over the first 39 pages, and it really kept me on the edge of my seat. Why does Caroline deserve the treatment she is receiving? What is going to happen in the next 300 pages? I had a lot of questions. However, I did understand a few elements of the story fairly easily. When I started reading, I couldn’t help but notice the overlap of A Thousand Acres and King Lear after only a few pages.

It seemed as if A Thousand Acres was the semi-modern tale of the Shakespearian play; from the themes, family structure, and down to some of the characters names.After thinking about the characters of King Lear: Lear, Goneril, Regan, & Cordelia I noticed the interesting name play of the characters in A Thousand Acres: Larry, Ginny, Rose and Caroline. Ironic? I think so. Both King Lear and Larry Cook have some sort of wealth in which allows them to be of importance. When it comes down to the end of their working lives, they both decide to give up their kingdom/farm to their three daughters as well as their husbands (which can be compared to Albany and Cornwall). Similar to Cordelia failing her fathers “love test”, Cook’s daughter Caroline said “I don’t know” about his idea to forming a cooperation to allow shares for each of his daughters, and was instantly left out of the running for a share of the land. Those are the elements that stuck out to me at this point in the story, I have a feeling that there will be more in the upcoming chapters.

I absolutely love A Thousand Acres takes place in Iowa. The Quaker School in West Branch where Pammy and Linda went to school is right by my grandparents house and about fifteen minutes from where I grew up. I really enjoyed that this novel has the Iowa feel to it, growing up on a farm I think it has allowed me to relate to it a lot better than the past novels/plays we have read. Not to mention, Jane Smiley coming from the University of Iowa writing program is an added bonus.