A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres

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Jess Clark Character Analysis

The son of Harold Clark, and the brother of Loren Clark, Jess Clark is one of the most ambiguous characters in the novel. Unlike others in his community, Jess seems relatively uninterested in farming; as a young man, he runs away from home, and ends up traveling around the world, partly for his own interest and partly to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War. When he returns home, the charismatic, mischievous Jess soon begins an affair with Ginny Cook Smith, and convinces her that he’s a good, honest man. Later, Jess also begins an affair with Rose Cook Lewis, leading Ginny to try to kill her own sister out of jealousy. Jess is the most charismatic character in the book, and yet he also seems to be a manipulative, greedy man—in the end, he abandons Rose as well, leaving her all alone on her vast property. Jess corresponds to the character Edmund in King Lear.

Jess Clark Quotes in A Thousand Acres

The A Thousand Acres quotes below are all either spoken by Jess Clark or refer to Jess Clark . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of A Thousand Acres published in 2003.
Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

At the pig roast, Jess Clark and the new machinery were Harold’s twin exhibits, and guests from all over the area couldn’t resist, had no reason to resist, the way he ferried them between the two, asking for and receiving admiration with a kind of shameless innocence that he was known for.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Harold Clark , Jess Clark
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Early on, Smiley gives us a vivid sense of the competitiveness and nosiness of small-town farm life. Because the community is pretty tiny population-wise, everybody knows about everybody else—there’s a constant surveillance process going on. When Jess Clark, Harold Clark’s “prodigal son,” returns from years of draft dodging and traveling, Harold makes sure he throws a party to prove to everybody that his family is strong: whether or nor he’s actually angry with his son, he wants to demonstrate to others that he’s proud of Jess and happy to have him home. As far as other neighbors are concerned, Jess is a “prop” for Harold, equated in the passage with Harold’s prized new tractor (a mark of his wealth and sophistication as a farmer). Harold wants to prove to other people in the community that he’s a successful man and a good father—there’s no better way to do both than to host a big party and invite everybody.

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Book 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

“Now that I’m back, after all those years away, I’m really amazed at how good Harold is at manipulating the way people think of him.”

Related Characters: Jess Clark (speaker), Harold Clark
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Jess Clark, returned to the country after many years, notices that his father, Harold Clark has cultivated a certain image of himself: Harold presents himself as a bumbling older man, a little eccentric, and not to be taken totally seriously. As Jess points out, however, Harold is a lot shrewder than he lets on: in reality, he’s hard working, quick-witted, and insightful. Harold just pretends to be an old eccentric because he knows that such a persona is a good way to convince people to leave him alone. Harold knows that it’s hard to find privacy in a small community—and he does this by pretending to be weirder than he really is.

It’s also important to notice that it’s Jess who sees through Harold—this is probably for two reasons. First, and most obviously, Jess is Harold’s son; Jess has seen Harold when he’s not in public, and knows more about what kind of man his father really is. Second, and more interestingly, Jess might be a fellow manipulator. Smiley never gives us much of an idea what Jess is “really” like (our impressions of him are nearly always filtered through Ginny’s adoring eyes), but she leaves open the likely possibility that he’s a shrewd, manipulative, and devious person, just like his dad.

Book 5, Chapter 39 Quotes

One of the jars of sausage was close to the edge of the table. I pushed it back and looked at Jess again. For the first time in weeks what was unbearable felt bearable.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Jess Clark
Related Symbols: The Jar of Sausages
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ginny has fixed a jar of poisoned sausages, designed to kill her sister, Rose. Rose has offended Ginny by sleeping with Jess Clark, Ginny’s former lover. Ginny had thought of Jess as a symbol of escape and freedom from Larry, and had seemingly truly fallen in love with him. Now, instead of hating Jess for his manipulation and deception, Ginny takes out her sense of betrayal by hating her sister, and even going so far as to try and kill her. (Whether this plot twist is plausible or not is arguable, but it does echo the events of King Lear, where Goneril poisons Regan.) Ginny makes sausages in particular because she knows that Jess is a vegetarian; Rose is the only person in the house who’s going to die.

Interestingly, Ginny feels eerily calm as she delivers the tool of her sister’s murder. When she presents it before Jess, she finds it easy to smile back at him, even though she’s been uneasy around him ever since hearing that he and Rose slept together. It’s interesting to compare the passage to Jess’s earlier description of how Harold Clark enjoys pretending to be eccentric in order to conceal his true nature: similarly, Ginny takes genuine pleasure in hiding her true feelings. At this point, she really is acting more overtly “villainous” (like her counterpart in Lear)—she’s no longer trying to escape from or punish an abusive father, but has now been corrupted by revenge and greed to the point that she turns a murderous hatred against her sister.

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Jess Clark Character Timeline in A Thousand Acres

The timeline below shows where the character Jess Clark appears in A Thousand Acres. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 1
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Theme Icon
...a sister, Rose. Her other neighbors are the Clarks, who have two sons, Loren and Jess. The narrator’s father is friends with Harold Clark, Loren and Jess’s father. (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 2
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In 1966, Jess Clark, one of the Clarks’ children, is drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. In... (full context)
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
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...and Pammy. By May of 1979, at the time when the narrator is preparing for Jess Clark’s return, Rose’s health is starting to improve: she’s undergone a mastectomy, and regained some... (full context)
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
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The narrator attends a huge pig roast at the Clarks’ farm, held to celebrate Jess’s return. The narrator notices the differences between Jess and his brother, Loren. Both are handsome... (full context)
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Jess greets Rose and the narrator and gives them both a hug. As they chat, they... (full context)
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Ginny asks Jess where he’s been living, and what he’s been doing with his life. Jess explains that... (full context)
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Tyler arrives at the party, and greets Jess warmly. The last time Tyler and Jess talked, Ginny thinks, Tyler seems far more mature.... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4
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...efficiently, thereby making a large profit for himself. The year before the pig roast celebrating Jess’s return, Harold irritated Ginny’s father (Larry Cook) by purchasing an air-conditioned tractor that could play... (full context)
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Still at the Clark house, Ginny talks with Jess Clark about Larry’s plan for the “corporation.” Ginny says that the idea feels “suspiciously levelheaded.”... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 7
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Ginny and Tyler go to Larry’s house, where Jess is drinking coffee, alone. While Ty drives off to find the rest of the family,... (full context)
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Ginny asks Jess to tell him about his time in Seattle, and Jess obliges. In Seattle, he ran... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 8
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...day, Ginny goes to plant tomatoes on her property. While she’s outside planting, she sees Jess Clark, who greets her cheerfully. As they talk, Jess mentions that his old fiancée, Alison,... (full context)
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Jess goes on to talk about meeting Alison while working with her at a crisis center.... (full context)
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Jess turns to talking about his mother, who died years ago. As he talks, he begins... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 11
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Ginny realizes that she’s waiting to run into Jess Clark again. She thinks about the death of Jess’s fiancée and mother, and wonders how... (full context)
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Jess emerges from the bathroom and talks about Ginny’s house, which used to belong to the... (full context)
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Ty suggests that Jess rent out some land next year, and Ginny realizes that Ty likes Jess as much... (full context)
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It’s late at night, but Ty, Jess, and Ginny talk about a news story: a woman was murdered in a nearby town.... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 12
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The next evening, Jess comes for dinner again. Rose, Ginny has heard, will be out of town tomorrow to... (full context)
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One night, Jess comes over for Monopoly with Rose and Pete, and says that Harold is planning to... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 14
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Back at Rose’s home, Ginny finds Ty, Rose, and Pete. Rose tells Ginny that Jess is coming over for a big dinner. Ginny reminds Rose that it’s her turn to... (full context)
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Theme Icon
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...money and land. She’s not sure what she would say. At dinner, Ginny stares at Jess, who looks very handsome. (full context)
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...annual Father’s Day dinner. At dinner, Larry is morose—the contrast with the sisters’ dinners with Jess is clear. Larry mentions a freak hailstorm that occurred recently, and says that he drove... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 15
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Theme Icon
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...He loves showing off with his new tractor, annoying Larry greatly. One night over Monopoly, Jess points out that Harold is a lot sharper and more manipulative than he lets on.... (full context)
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
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...about changing around his will. Ginny knows that Harold’s current will probably favors Loren over Jess. Jess jokes that Harold is probably going to leave his entire farm to the National... (full context)
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Before Jess leaves, he asks Ty about an area of land that Ty has been working for... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 17
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
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...morning, Ginny cleans the house from top to bottom. In the middle of her work, Jess pays her a visit and asks her to go for a walk with him. Ginny... (full context)
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In the dump, Jess cheerfully points out different species of flowers and snakes to Ginny. Suddenly, he asks Ginny... (full context)
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Jess tells Ginny that sometimes he’s afraid that after his father dies, he’ll end up living... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 19
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...is reminded of how handsome her husband is, and yet she thinks about sleeping with Jess. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 20
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
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...Larry sits in the back, silent. As Ginny sits in the car, she thinks of Jess. Suddenly, Larry groans, and Ty asks him what happened. Ty reminds Larry that the police... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 21
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...in Larry’s accident. Ginny’s main source of happiness during the fallout from Larry’s accident is Jess; she finds herself imagining Jess’s beautiful, muscular body. (full context)
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...Harold leaves, Ginny chats with Dollie, and Dollie notes that she’s never been comfortable with Jess, because he behaves like a tourist. (full context)
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One day, shortly afterwards, Jess, Harold, and Loren come by to drop off some frozen supplies with Ty and Ginny.... (full context)
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As Jess finishes the delivery and says goodbye to Ginny, he mentions to Ginny that he’s planning... (full context)
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That afternoon, Ginny meets Jess in the dump as they’d planned. They have sex (though Smiley doesn’t describe it, and... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 22
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
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...almost always does when she’s alone with her father. To calm herself, she thinks of Jess, who is a strange combination of “American greed and Oriental serenity,” she thinks. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 24
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Theme Icon
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...father calling her a whore—she wonders if he could possibly know about her affair with Jess. Inside the house, Rose says that Larry is clearly crazy. The phone rings, and Ty... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 25
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The next morning, Ginny finds Jess waiting for her. As she looks as Jess, she begins to cry. Jess explains that... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 28
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At the potluck, Ginny runs into Jess. Jess reports that his brother Loren went into Mason City. In the meantime, Jess has... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 29
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After the disastrous potluck, Jess tells Ginny and Rose that he needs a new place to stay while Larry and... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 30
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
Ginny waits for Jess to stop by talk. Strangely, she only sees him twice, and he’s quiet on both... (full context)
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
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...ground, and drives him to the hospital. Nobody was around to take care of Harold: Jess was jogging, Larry was talking to Marv Carson, Ty was working, and Ginny was driving... (full context)
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Jess enters the house, and has a serious talk with Ginny and Rose. Rose accuses Jess... (full context)
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After their conversation, Ginny, Rose, and Jess don’t visit Harold in the hospital at all. When Ginny sees Loren, they don’t talk.... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 33
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...about it. Ginny is surprised that Rose would betray her trust. Ginny also mentions that Jess has suggested that she’s had so many miscarriages because of the bad water in the... (full context)
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...to Ty. She sneaks out of the house and goes over to Larry’s house, where Jess Clark is sleeping. She calls out to Jess and Jess comes outside. Ginny tells Jess... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 38
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...after he stopped beating her. She slept with other men, and has been sleeping with Jess lately. She confesses that she hoped her lovers could “supersede Daddy.” Rose explains that she’s... (full context)
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...his strength, she finds the courage to tell Rose the truth: she’s been sleeping with Jess, too. Rose smiles and says that she knew: Jess slept with Ginny before he began... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 39
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The immediate effect of Ginny’s discovery that Rose is sleeping with Jess is that she thinks she understands everyone in her life now. In turn, she thinks... (full context)
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Ginny also thinks back to the funeral, and her conversations with Jess. Jess was cheerful and friendly, but he felt like a stranger. (full context)
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
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...house, where she offers it as a surprise. While she’s at Rose’s house, she sees Jess. Although Ginny had previously found it hard to think about Jess, she now finds it... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 40
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It’s the middle of September, and Ty prepares for the harvest with the help of Jess (one of the few able-bodied men around who’s willing to help Ty). There’s less than... (full context)
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...did while in control of Larry’s land. As the hearing moves on, Ginny notices that Jess, who’s sitting in court, seems very cold and calculating. (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 42
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In Rose’s note, she explains that she and Ty divided the farm evenly: Rose and Jess will farm their half organically, while Ty will convert his half into a hog farm.... (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 44
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...Ginny is still trying to fight with her, and assumes that she’s still angry about Jess. She tries to tell Ginny that Jess was crueler and more manipulative than Ginny knew,... (full context)
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...years ago with the jar of poisoned sausages. Rose barely reacts; she explains that after Jess abandoned her she put the jar in the cellar, along with everything else that reminded... (full context)
Epilogue
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Ginny is lonely: she meets men, but never anyone like Jess. However, she has “inherited” Linda and Pammy, and she takes care of them as they... (full context)