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Comparative Essay: A Thousand Acres and King Lear

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Comparative Essay between, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley and King Lear by Shakespeare

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Comparative Essay: A Thousand Acres and King Lear

  1. 1. Comparative Essay A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley and King Lear by William Shakespeare Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, depicts Lear’s journey to wisdom and humbleness before his tragic demise. The novel, A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley, revisits this classic tragedy through a modern-day interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Similar to Lear relinquishing his crown to his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, Lawrence ‘Larry’ Cook divides his thousand acres of farmland amongst his three daughters, Ginny, Rose and Caroline. A Thousand Acre’s selective paralleling to King Lear allows characters to be developed with a richness and complexity not present in King Lear. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two works of literature are pronounced; both works develop the themes of, compassion and reconciliation, appearance versus reality, and the role of women in a patriarchal society. However, the differences in the development of the themes in, A Thousand Acres and King Lear, are manifested through the distinct characterization of the parallel characters; Lear and Larry, Cordelia and Caroline, and Goneril and Ginny. The different characterization of Lear in King Lear and Larry in A Thousand Acres, results in a different portrayal of the theme, compassion and reconciliation. In King Lear, Lear is an arrogant and foolish man; however, he grows and learns humility throughout the course of the play. Lear’s humility is first seen when he asks The Fool: “Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold?” (Shakespeare,III,ii,66). Lear’s concern for The Fool shows a drastic change in his character. Additionally, Lear reflects on the poor and homeless who have no protection: “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are, /That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, /How shall your
  2. 2. 2 houseless heads and unfed sides…Oh, I have ta’e /Too little care of this!” (III,iv,28-30). Notably, Lear is more compassionate, and more sensitive to the struggles and miseries of the poor. Evidently, Lear replaces his former arrogance with compassion and humility by showing concern for others. As a result, Lear and Cordelia reconcile out of compassion. Cordelia forgives Lear by saying, “No cause, no cause” (IV, vii, 73) in response to his admission that she hates him. Shakespeare demonstrates how Lear’s compassion results in reconciliation in times of tragedy. Lear’s compassion and reconciliation with Cordelia is contrasted by the character, Larry Cook, in A Thousand Acres. Unlike Lear, Larry Cook does not change or humble himself throughout the course of his life. In fact, he remains insolent and arrogant, refusing to acknowledge his sins of incest and abuse. Smiley puts emphasis on the compassion for Ginny and Rose, as they are products of Larry’s childhood abuse and molest. Rose says: “Daddy thinks history starts fresh every day, every minute… That’s how he keeps on betraying us, why he roars at us with such conviction” (Smiley, 216). Larry’s lack of remorse and compassion leaves him with no true reconciliation with his children. He spirals indo madness, and fails to recognize Caroline when they are reunited at the court. Although Larry physically sees Caroline, he says, “She’s dead!”…”Caroline! Caroline’s dead! I think those sisters stole the body and buried her already” (320). Everything falls apart in the end for Larry and there is no reconciliation for the family. In short, the theme of compassion and reconciliation is recurrent throughout King Lear and A Thousand Acres. However, through the contrast of Larry’s character to Lear, both experience a different outcome. The characters, Cordelia from King Lear and Caroline from A Thousand Acres, both perpetuate the theme of appearance versus reality. In King Lear, appearance versus reality is a
  3. 3. 3 recurring theme throughout the play. Initially, Lear falls for the false love professions from Goneril and Regan. Lear, unable to distinguish false flattery from truth, divides the kingdom amongst them. Ironically, Lear banishes Cordelia for her honest appeal to Lear’s love. Though Cordelia did love Lear, she refuses to flatter him, simply stating: “I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less” (I,i,91-92). Evidently, Lear is unable to distinguish between appearances and reality. Cordelia is not thoroughly developed in the play, and mostly characterized by the audience’s interpretations. However, in A Thousand Acres, there is complexity to Caroline’s character, rather than the label as the ‘good daughter.’ Like Cordelia, she is disinherited when she questions Larry’s decision to split the farm. Unlike Cordelia, she is not the ‘good daughter’, nor does she have purer love for her father. The reason that she is able to love Larry freely is because she is protected from his dark side. Although Larry is perceived to be a successful farmer and a well- respected figure within his community, he is actually a misguided person who sexually molested Ginny and Rose when they were younger. Caroline is in blissful ignorance of her father’s misdeeds and adversely judges Ginny and Rose. When Ginny says to Caroline, “We did everything for you! We saved you from Daddy” (245), Caroline responds with, “Did I really have to be saved from Daddy? From my own father?” (245). Caroline condemns Ginny and says “I realize that some people are just evil.” (363). Evidently, Ginny and Rose keep up the appearance that everything is alright to protect Caroline from the unknown evils of Larry. Smiley develops the theme of appearance versus reality through Caroline’s character, and emphasizes the important role appearances play. In both King Lear and A Thousand Acres, the theme appearance versus reality is apparent throughout and manifested through the actions of Cordelia and Caroline.
  4. 4. 4 Lastly, the portrayal of Goneril and Regan from, King Lear and Ginny and Rose from, A Thousand Acres draws parallel in reflection of women in a patriarchal society. In, King Lear, the physical absence of mothers in the play emphasizes how the father was everything in the predominately patriarchal Shakespearian society. Furthermore, through the negative portrayal of Goneril and Regan, women are considered to be the root of evil. Goneril and Regan’s actions seem cruel and motiveless, especially their treatment towards Lear upon attaining his kingdom. Goneril and Regan are referred to as evil throughout the play; Albany refers to Goneril as the devil: “See thyself, devil! Proper deformity shows not in the fiend /So horrid as in woman.” (IV,ii,58-60). Shakespeare portrays how women at power will ensue chaos, and develops the idea that women have no place in patriarchal power structures. In contrast to the evil depiction of Goneril and Regan in, King Lear, Ginny and Rose are agreeable daughters in, A Thousand Acres. Narrated from a feminist perspective, Ginny recounts her unending tolerance for Larry’s insolent behaviour. In fact, both Ginny and Rose have been waiting on Larry since their mother’s death, making breakfast for him every morning and dutifully meeting his demands. Throughout the novel, Ginny constantly suppresses her voice: “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). Furthermore, she is passive and states: “I just want to get along, Daddy. I don’t want to fight. Don’t fight with me?” (175). Ginny’s inability to stand up to her father illustrates how she allows herself to steer clear from attention and withholding power. Similarly, Ty’s response to Ginny’s exasperation of Larry’s insolent behavior is simply: “Settle down. You could just endure it” (261). Evidently, women are preferred to be docile, as Ty encourages his wife to be quiet and instead of standing up for
  5. 5. 5 herself. In short, Ginny is systematically attacked by men through the abuse by her father in her youth, Larry’s continuous insolent behavior, and the absence of compassion from her husband. Overall, the development of Ginny and Rose’s childhood history provide reasoning behind their actions. They are victims of Larry’s abuse, in contrast to the cruel sisters portrayed in King Lear. However, both works illustrate how women are suppressed in a patriarchal society. The drawn parallels between the characters in King Lear and A Thousand Acres allow the perpetuation of the themes, compassion and reconciliation, appearance versus reality, and a women’s place in a patriarchal society. In A Thousand Acres, Smiley develops the characters with more depth to provide more reasoning behind the characters actions. Larry’s portrayal as a static character along with the development of Ginny, Rose and Caroline’s childhood past answer many uncertainties that come up in Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. Despite the vast difference in time periods and settings of the two works, both works contain universal concepts in which societies past and present can identify with. The similarities found in King Lear and A Thousand Acres serves as a reminder that time passes, but the relationships and mannerism of people will never change.

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  • blibby23510

    Dec. 8, 2014
  • ahmed101khurram

    Apr. 20, 2015

ENG4U1 Comparative Essay between, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley and King Lear by Shakespeare

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