A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres

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The Jar of Sausages Symbol Analysis

The Jar of Sausages Symbol Icon

Toward the end of the novel, Ginny Cook Smith learns that her sister, Rose Cook Lewis, has been sleeping with Jess Clark, with whom Ginny herself has been having an affair. Furious with her sister for betraying her, Ginny researches poisons and cooks Rose some sausages poisoned with hemlock, which she places in a jar. Ginny, knowing that Jess is a vegetarian, is hoping that Rose will eat the sausages at some point and die. The jar comes to symbolize Ginny’s (seemingly-irrational) capacity for hatred, jealousy, and revenge. Her desire to be revenged on her abusive father has corrupted Ginny more than it’s punished Larry, leading the two sisters to become broken down by hatred and bitterness, and to turn on each other. Over the years, the jar remains in Rose’s cellar, uneaten—symbolizing Ginny’s longstanding, unrelenting hatred, and her inability to really move on in her life while still burdened by her past and her desire for revenge. (At the same time, some critics have noted that the “jar of sausages” murder plot seems a bit far-fetched and out-of-character even for the jealous Ginny, though it does echo the plot of King Lear.)

The Jar of Sausages Quotes in A Thousand Acres

The A Thousand Acres quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Jar of Sausages. 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 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

I have this recurring nightmare about grabbing things that might hurt me, like that straight razor Daddy used to have, or a jar of some poison that spills on my hands. I know I shouldn’t and I watch myself, but I can’t resist.

Related Characters: Rose Cook Lewis (speaker), Ginny Cook Smith , Laurence Cook
Related Symbols: The Jar of Sausages
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Rose differs from her sister in many important ways; one of these is her acquisitiveness. Rose has no illusions about her personality: she was always a greedy person, even when she was a young child (or dreaming, as here). Whenever she saw something she liked, she had to have it immediately—even if the item in question was bad for her. Rose knows perfectly well that her greediness is a flaw: she recognizes that sometimes, she desires things that are bad for her; hence her nightmare about grabbing razor blades and poison. And yet Rose is powerless to change who she is.

The passage is important because it foreshadows the events of the rest of the novel. Rose will soon be seduced by her own wealth and power, to the point where she’ll be “chained” to her own farmland, even though she knows that it’s bad for her soul. (Also notice the subtle foreshadowing: Rose mentions a “poisoned jar’ much like the one Ginny will later use in an attempt to kill her.)

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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.

Book 5, Chapter 40 Quotes

I continued to behave as if I was living in the sight of all our neighbors, as Mr. Cartier had told us to. I waited for Rose to die, but the weather was warm for sauerkraut and liver sausage—that was a winter dish.

Related Characters: Ginny Cook Smith (speaker), Rose Cook Lewis , Jean Cartier
Related Symbols: The Jar of Sausages
Page Number: 316
Explanation and Analysis:

The strength, but also the weakness, of Ginny’s murder plot is that it’s slow-acting and relies heavily on chance. As a result, it’s less likely that Ginny will be linked to the murder—but until Rose dies, Ginny has to twiddle her thumbs and wait. Moreover, until that time, Ginny can’t focus on anything but the murder. There’s a constant cloud of vengeance hanging over her—her life is “stalled” until the day that Rose dies.

Ginny’s murder plot is intended to free Ginny from her anxieties about life on the farmland: by killing Rose, she can (she assumes) run off with Jess and escape Larry forever. But because the sausages don’t kill Rose right away, Ginny can’t live normally; she’s always looking over her shoulder and putting on appearances of normality (as her lawyer told her to, mentioned here). As we’ll see soon enough, Ginny will spend the next decade and more with the burden of Rose’s potential murder.

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The Jar of Sausages Symbol Timeline in A Thousand Acres

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Jar of Sausages appears in A Thousand Acres. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 5, Chapter 39
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
...completely “premeditated.” She finds hemlock growing near a river, and cooks into a dish of sausage and sauerkraut. She then cans the dish and brings it over to Rose’s house, where... (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 42
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
...to get a note in return: she was sure Rose would have eaten the canned sausage by now. (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 44
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Ginny tells Rose that she tried to kill her years ago with the jar of poisoned sausages. Rose barely reacts; she explains that after Jess abandoned her she put... (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 45
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
...and drives back to the farm. She goes down to the cellar and finds the jar of poisoned sausages. She also notices some old tins of DDT. Ginny takes the sausages... (full context)