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 a month until Rose and Ginny are set to appear in court. Ginny watches her husband and Jess harvest crops, and wonders when Rose is going to “drop dead.”
A month goes by, and Caroline and Frank appear in court opposite Ginny and Rose. In court, Caroline ignores her sisters but smiles at Ty, who smiles back. Ginny is struck by how peaceful and happy Caroline and Larry seem together, though Ginny is furious that Caroline has betrayed her and Rose—her two older sisters, who took care of her when she was younger.
The trial scene is important because it reinforces the widening emotional distances within the family—distances that may have existed all along, but which hadn’t previously been brought to light. Caroline is innocent and independent, precisely because her two older sisters protected her as a child.
The hearing begins, and Ginny feels confident that she’ll win: the harvest has been a great success, meaning that, per Cartier’s advice, she and Rose will be able to withstand Larry’s attacks. The first witness is Larry, and he’s examined by his lawyer, Ken. Ken asks Larry about the corporation agreement, but in response Larry rambles to Caroline about how “the land won’t produce.” Ken continues to try to examine Larry, but he won’t answer a single question; he just continues to describe “the land.”
The passage shows how far Larry has fallen. Although he continues to command a certain measure of respect from his peers, he’s basically lost his mind. Larry can barely string together a sentence; the combination of drunkenness, resentment, and abandonment has destroyed him. And yet he’s still drawn to his own land—farmland, one could say, is the one part of Larry that survives intact.
Suddenly, Larry shouts, “Caroline’s dead.” Caroline, who’s sitting in court rushes to Larry’s side. Larry mutters that Rose and Ginny, “those bitches,” have killed Caroline. Larry says that Caroline used to sing “like a bird,” and Ginny, in spite of herself, shouts out that Larry is wrong: it was Rose who used to sing. Larry ignores Ginny, and the hearing continues.
This passage is an interesting variation on Lear, in which Cordelia dies suddenly and tragically. In the play, Lear talks about living a carefree life with Cordelia, singing like birds in a cage. And yet, Smiley implies, Larry (and Lear) is wrong to focus his love on one child so exclusively—he’s just confusing Caroline with Rose. The trial might seem to be about the land, but it’s really about the family.
The hearing goes on. Ken manages to enter some evidence of Larry’s corporation agreement, while Ty testifies about the business that he 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.
Ginny begins to see Jess in a new light: he’s not the kind, charismatic guy she fell in love with; he’s actually manipulative and cruel, putting on an act of innocence and kindness to get what he wants. In this, Jess, finally begins to more fully resemble his Lear counterpart: the wicked Edmund.
Caroline takes the stand and testifies that she was immediately suspicious of Larry’s plan to divide up his property—it wasn’t at all like her father. Caroline tries to say that her sisters have mistreated Larry, but the judge interrupts her and clarifies that the point of the hearing is to determine if the farmland has been mismanaged—not how poorly Ginny and Rose treated Larry.
The trial scene is something of an anticlimax: Caroline is about to get to what is, from out perspective, the heart of the matter (Larry’s decision to divide up his land, and his daughters’ subsequent treatment of him). And yet, as the judge says, that isn’t the principle legal issue: the only question that matters is how Ginny and Rose have farmed.
Marv testifies that the farm is in debt, but only because Ginny and Rose are planning a hog farm that, in Marv’s opinion, will be highly successful. After Marv’s testimony, the judge says that he’s made up his mind: the facts of the case are very simple. Larry signed a document, and there’s essentially no legal basis for him to “un-sign” the document. The Judge also reprimands Larry and Caroline for pushing a “family matter” into court, and orders them to pay all outstanding legal fees. Rose is gleeful with the result of the trial, while Caroline is visibly furious. Ginny, however, is worried that the decision will permanently break up her family.
Ginny and Rose win their case easily, and yet nothing is really achieved. Larry is humiliated, but his daughters continue to resent one another and their father (their revenge hasn’t brought them any real pleasure), and the town continues to resent both Rose and Ginny. Rose seems more overtly villainous, while Ginny (who, let’s not forget, tried to kill her own sister) seems a little more guilty about what she’s done to her father.