Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres tells a dark tale of a corrupt patriarchal society which operates through concealment. It is a story in which the characters attempt to manipulate one another through the secrets they possess and the subsequent revelation of those secrets. In her novel, Smiley gives us a very simple moral regarding this patriarchal society: women who remain financially and emotionally dependent on men decay; those able to break the economic and emotional chains develop as women and as humans.
Roots of A Thousand Acres can be seen in numerous novels and plays, the most obvious of which is King Lear. The parallels are too great to ignore. Smiley is successful because she fills in so many of the gaps left open in the play. She gives us new and different perspectives.
One of the particular strengths of the novel lies in its depiction of the place of women in a predominantly patriarchal culture. In this male dominated culture, the values privileged in women include silence and subordination. Ginny is acceptable as a woman as long as she remains “oblivious” (121). She is allowed to disagree with men, contingent upon her doing so without fighting (104). Ultimately, her opinion as a woman remains irrelevant. Ginny remarks, “of course it was silly to talk about ‘my po int of view.’ When my father asserted his point of view, mine vanished” (176). When she makes the “mistake” of crossing her father, she is referred to as a “bitch,” “whore,” and “slut” (181, 185).
It could be argued that many of the male characters in the novel are suffering from a type of virgin/whore syndrome. As long as the women remain docile receptacles they are “good”; when they resist or even question masculine authority, they are “bad.” Rose complains, “When we are good girls and accept our circumstances, we’re glad about it….When we are bad girls, it drives us crazy” (99). The women have been indoctrinated to the point that they initially buy into and accept these standards of judgem ent. The type of patriarchy described by Smiley simply serves to show the inscription of the marginalization of women by men in the novel and in our society.
Another strength of the novel is its treatment of secrets and appearances.
A Feminist Perspective of On the Road and The First Third
Much has been written about the Beat generation, especially about the hold its radical freedom has exerted on the American imagination. The Beats who stand out in most of our minds are men and the freedom they enjoyed–a freedom of movement, of creativity, of sexuality–is coded as a particularly male kind of freedom. My paper will suggest that in their autobiographical texts On the Road and The First Third Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady construct a travelling masculinity in an attempt to escape bourgeois patriarchal structures without abandoning traditional patriarchal definitions of masculine power.
In the American imagination, the archetypal national hero is a travelling man: the frontiersman, pioneer, cowboy, scout, who subdued the wilderness and inscribed “America” over the continent. Moving unfettered through American frontiers, they exemplified the freedom of complete self-creation. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Editor’s Note,” which serves as an introduction to Neal Cassady’s The First Third, positions Cassady in the American heroic tradition as representative of th…