Get help from the best in academic writing.

Body and Nature as Metaphor in A Thousand Acres

Body and Nature as Metaphor in A Thousand Acres

Most issues on a farm return to the issue of keeping up appearances. (Smiley p.199)

[T]he female body is a reservoir, a virgin patch of still, pooled water where the fetus comes to term. (Paglia p.27)

[A] fetus is a benign tumor, a vampire who steals in order to live. (Paglia p.11)

The epigraph to this novel is from “The Ancient People and the Newly Come”:

The body repeats the landscape. They are the source of each other and create each other. We were marked by the seasonal body of earth, by the terrible migrations of people, by the swift turn of a century, verging on change never before experienced on this greening planet.

This encompasses much of what the novel is about, every phrase having some significance for its project. Human bodies, as well as the “body of earth”, are subject to both seasonal and social change. I argue elsewhere how Ginny’s body becomes a signifying system for social intercourse, as does the scenery surrounding her. Here, I would like to explore the multiplex meanings of the motif of the tiles.

When Ginny’s ancestors arrived, their land was marshy, wet, impossible to farm. Laying down tiles drained the water and became the basis for their wealth- “magically, tile produced prosperity”(15). This signifies the control that capitalist industrial farming exerts toward nature, a control that ultimately becomes destructive. As Jess tells Ginny, the way Larry farms has poisoned the land and its people: “People have known for ten years or more that nitrates in well water cause miscarriages and death of infants. Don’t you know that the fertilizer runoff drains into the aquifer?” (165).

The surface richness and the treacherous, wet p…

… middle of paper …

…y to turn the destructive forces to her advantage. The important difference, bringing together issues of body and nature in the novel, is that her poison is not chemical, but natural: the root of water hemlock. Ginny envisions her poisoning of Rose’s body as the inevitable result of the incest of Rose, but it is indirectly also the result of the abuse of her: “I thought […] of that cell dividing in the dark and then living rather than dying, subdividing, multiplying, growing, Rose’s real third child […]. Her dark child, the child of her union with Daddy.”(323)

When she destroys the jar of poison, the only remaining object of her past life and the metaphoric container of that life’s destructive path, she stops the spreading of social and filial poison, hindering its influence on the lives of the future generation: Pammy and Linda. That is the hope of the future.

Body and Nature as Signifying System in Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres

Body and Nature as Signifying System in A Thousand Acres

The fascinating aspect of theories about the bodies, is that our bodies lie somewhere in the grey area between the physical and the intellectual realm (in itself testifying to the falsity of such dichotomies). On the one hand, they are biological; genetically programmed flesh. On the other, they are continuous sites of signification; embodying (no pun intended) the essentially textual quality of a human subject’s identity.

A Thousand Acres foregrounds issues raised by the perspective that one’s body can be the vehicle for understanding of the self and the world. One of the ways this is done, is a part of a larger project of ecofeminist rhetoric, creating numerous analogies between the body and nature. This is first seen when Ginny utilizes nature by the Scenic. Not only are “the cattails green and fleshy-looking”(7, italics mine), but the natural scene forms a signifying system like her own body, a way to metaphorically internalize the problems of human interaction. Wonderfully incorporated into this is also the intertextual body created by A Thousand Acres and King Lear. In the storm scene, Lear calls Regan and Goneril “those pelican daughters” (III.iv.75, meaning that they feed on the parent’s blood). By the Scenic, Ginny sees pelicans reemerging after supposedly being annihilated by her farmer ancestors, foreshadowing the reemerging of her self after a life of suppression. She can read nature like a text about her own suppression and the suppression and hiding of what is actually going on between the characters in this novel: “The view along the Scenic, I thought, taught me a lesson about what is below the level of the visible” (9).

Nature, for Ginny, is understood by way of the intertwining of its and her body’s past. She “was always aware […] of the of the water in the soil, the way it travels from particle to particle”, an awareness that eventually evolves into an understanding and identification. She reflects upon the millions of years and billions of “leaves, seeds, feathers, scales, flesh, bones, petals, pollen” (131) that constitute the soil they live on. The hope is that this is a large-scale development of corporeal transformation that transcends the petty exploitative farming of a patriarchal society, and that she is a part of it. After all, her body is not only a part of the soil, and vice versa, but of the poisoning of nature: “My inheritance is with me, sitting in my chair.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.