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 influences are often inextricably connected to concrete inheritances like land and money.
The tragedy of Ginny and Rose’s lives is that they want to inherit certain aspects of their father’s legacy, such as his land and his money, but don't want to inherit other aspects of his legacy (they don’t want to remember their father’s cruelty and abusiveness—in fact, they don’t really want to remember their father at all). Ginny and Rose talk about moving away from their farmland altogether and becoming waitresses in Saint Paul, thus freeing themselves from the memory of their father. But because of Ginny and Rose’s strong desire for wealth and independence, and their sense of having a legitimate claim to their father’s property, they remain on and take over running the farm.
Because Ginny and Rose choose to inherit their father’s property, they must also “inherit” memories of their father, traumatic though some of the memories are. As the novel goes on, Ginny and Rose try to maintain their new property and forget about their father, but nothing they try works. Their property is so closely connected to Larry’s life and career that to live on the farm is to remember Larry. Smiley demonstrates the link between Larry and his property throughout her novel, most directly in the scene where Ginny walks through her father’s house; the sight of specific rooms, especially her own, triggers her to vividly remember her father raping her. In the end, Ginny seems to realize the futility of her struggle: as long as she keeps her father’s old property, her father will be “with” her. Her decision, toward the end of the novel, to leave the farm and move to the city suggests that her desire to be free of the traumatic familial legacy, her family’s emotional inheritance, outweighs her desire for the potential wealth that ownership of the farm, her physical inheritance, offers.
Inheritance, Land, and Memory ThemeTracker
Inheritance, Land, and Memory Quotes in A Thousand Acres
There was no way to tell by looking that the land beneath my childish feet wasn’t the primeval mold I read about in school, but it was new, created by magic lines of tile my father would talk about with pleasure and reverence. Tile “drew” the water, warmed the soil, and made it easy to work, enabled him to get into the field with his machinery a mere 24 hours after the heaviest storm.
We’ll stop making allowances tomorrow. This is important. He’s handing over his whole life, don’t you understand that? We have to receive it in the right spirit. And Rose and Pete and even Ty are ready to receive it. Just do it this once. Last time, I promise.
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.
It was a pantry cabinet, a sink, four base cabinets, and two wall cabinets, as well as eight fee of baby blue laminated countertop, … which my father had bought for a thousand dollars.
“He is crazy,” said Rose. Anyway, Ginny, you’re running out of money
and you have all the expensive rentals left before you get to Go.”
I flattered you when I called you a bitch! What do you want to reduce me to? I’ll stop this building! I’ll get the land back! I’ll throw you whores off this place. You’ll learn what it means to treat your father like this. I curse you!
“He didn’t rape me, Ginny. He seduced me. He said it was okay, that it was good to please me, that he needed it, that I was special. He said he loved me.”
I said, “I can’t listen to this.”
Since then I’ve often thought we could have taken our own advice, driven to the Twin Cities and found jobs as waitresses, measured out our days together in a garden apartment, the girls in one bedroom, Rose and I in the other, anonymous, ducking forever a destiny that we never asked for, that was our father’s gift to us.
“Look at Daddy! He knew he’d treated me unfairly, but that we really felt love for each other. He made amends. We got really close at the end.”
“How did he mistreat you?”
“Well, by getting mad and cutting me out of the farm.”
I can’t say that I forgive my father, but now I can imagine what he probably chose never to remember—the goad of an unthinkable urge, pricking him, pressing him wrapping him in an impenetrable fog of self that must have seemed, when he wandered around the house late at night after working and drinking, like the very darkness. This is the gleaming obsidian shaft I safeguard above all the others.