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A New Twist


Submitted By Jaybanan7
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A Thousand Acres and King Lear: A New Twist

When Jane Smiley wrote A Thousand Acres, she consciously made the story parallel to Shakespeare's King Lear for several reasons. The novel's characters and basic storyline are almost direct parallels to King Lear, but Smiley's dissatisfaction with the traditional interpretation of King Lear is showcased in her modern day version (Berne 236).

The story of the Cook family is almost a carbon copy of the saga of Lear's family. The ruler, or father, possesses so much power that he is driven to insanity. Both divide up their kingdoms and land, giving the largest portion to the most "loving" daughter: "In spite of that inner clang, I tried to sound agreeable. 'It's a good idea.' Rose said, 'It's a great idea.' Caroline said, 'I don't know.'" (Smiley 19).

In each family, one daughter, the youngest, rebels against her father's wishes and is not given any land. Shortly after giving up his power, the father realizes that he is nothing without it and appears to be slowly becoming insane. In both instances, the father, in a crazed moment, wanders off and puts himself in a life-threatening situation. In the end the youngest daughter comes to the fathers' rescue.

With so many basic plot similarities, Smiley manages to convey a new take on an old-fashioned story. At the end of King Lear, Lear traditionally is believed to be a changed man. Smiley doesn't buy into this common belief; therefore Larry Cook remains a static character throughout the novel. He never changes his attitude towards his possessions, his daughters and his land. Another difference that contributes to Smiley's new interpretation is the point of view from which the story is told. King Lear is told from a strictly male point of view. A Thousand Acres is told through the viewpoint of Ginny, Smiley's parallel to Goneril. Through Ginny's self-revelation, the reader is made aware of many circumstances that would cause a daughter to hate her father. Smiley believes that Lear's daughters must have had some reason for hating him. This is why, in her novel, she includes a childhood of incest.

Due to these different points of view, there is a difference in theme between the works. As a result of the time period it was written in, King Lear is made up of themes applying exclusively to men. The abuse of power, the dominant theme in King Lear, does appear as a sub-theme in A Thousand Acres. However, Smiley's main themes are living life to its fullest and living life for yourself.

Though the basic plot of A Thousand Acres parallels King Lear , "It is a tribute to Jane Smiley's absorbing, well-plotted novel that it never reads like a gloss on Shakespeare" (Duffy 92). Smiley accomplishes her goal of providing a new interpretation of Shakespeare's classic tragedy. There is no doubt that in A Thousand Acres, Smiley makes many readers rethink their opinions of the Lear family.

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