A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres


Jane Smiley

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Themes and Colors
King Lear and Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility Theme Icon
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Thousand Acres, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

King Lear and Good vs. Evil

It’s no secret that A Thousand Acres is based on William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy King Lear. Where Shakespeare’s work is about an elderly king who tries to divide up his property between his three daughters, Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia, Smiley’s novel is about an elderly farmer, Larry Cook, who tries to divide up his property between his three daughters, Rose, Ginny, and Caroline. There are long passages in A Thousand

read analysis of King Lear and Good vs. Evil

Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility

In King Lear, female characters tend to fall into two camps: purely good (such as Cordelia, the “good” daughter”) and purely evil (Regan and Goneril, the “bad” daughters). It’s the men of Lear – Lear, Edmund, Edgar, even Gloucester and Kent – who get the most time on stage, and who have the most psychological depth. As Smiley has stated in interviews and essays, part of her intention in writing One Thousand Acres was…

read analysis of Women, Sexual Abuse, and Fertility

Inheritance, Land, and Memory

A Thousand Acres studies inheritance: the passage of property, especially from one generation to the next. Sometimes, the “property” in question is literal: as the novel begins, Larry Cook signs the papers that turn over his thousand acres of farmland to his two eldest daughters, Ginny and Rose. But in reality, the characters’ most importance inheritance is abstract: the memories and influences passed on from parents to children, and the way such memories and…

read analysis of Inheritance, Land, and Memory
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Throughout the second half of the novel, Ginny and Rose are motivated by the desire to get revenge on their father for abusing them when they were teenagers. Perhaps surprisingly, Ginny and Rose don’t try to get their revenge on Larry by simply telling people about his crimes—as Rose says, their vengeance must be more personal and “total.” Instead, Ginny and Rose attempt to get revenge by reshaping the farmland Larry gives them and by…

read analysis of Revenge

Appearance vs. Reality

A Thousand Acres takes place in the American Midwest in a community so small that, at times, its inhabitants seem to know everything about one another. And yet many of the novel’s characters, including some of the community’s most prominent and popular residents, have dark secrets to hide; for example, Larry Cook abused his children, Ginny and Rose, even as he pretends to be a proud, upstanding member of the community. Smiley’s novel studies…

read analysis of Appearance vs. Reality