King Lear and a Thousand Acres

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  • Topic: King Lear, A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
  • Pages : 7 (2631 words )
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  • Published : November 29, 2012
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King Lear and A thousand acres comparison

The one social issue that hasn’t evolved since the 17th century is the ever present schisms between families. People have always cheated, parents have always chosen favorites, and the struggles for wealth and power have always torn families apart. Most notably, these conflicts have been portrayed in Shakespeare’s King Lear and Romeo and Juliet, but the theater of family argument has also shone through in modern works such as Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. Both King Lear and A Thousand Acres are enduring pieces of literature that have redefined the family complex, portrayed the death of families through jealousy and greed, and examined the reoccurring theme of fate versus free will. Both King Lear and A Thousand Acres focus on the patriarch of a family and how he decides to distribute his assets. King Lear focuses on how Lear, the King of England, will distribute his kingdom amongst his three daughters, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril. A Thousand Acres, on the other hand, takes a much more modern approach by detailing the life of Larry Cook, a successful Iowan farmer, and how he attempts to evade inheritance taxes by dividing his farm amongst his daughters, Caroline, Rose, and Ginny. In both literary works, the father distributes his holdings before his death, which, while at the time seems like a savvy tactic, ends up having detrimental repercussions for both men. To highlight the actions undertaken by the main characters, both authors also develop a subplot focusing on a friend of the respective fathers and how he deals with his two sons. In King Lear, Lear’s friend, Gloucester, debates upon the merits of his two sons, Edmund and Edgar, wavering in his decision on which of his sons is loyal and which son will inevitably betray him. Similarly, in A Thousand Acres, Smiley develops the subplot of the tensions between Harold and his two sons, Loren and Jess. A major theme in both pieces is the issues of love, family relationships and the loyalty that can either be steadfastly present or blatantly nonexistent. In King Lear, Lear must decide how to distribute his kingdom. Instead of dividing it equally among his heiresses, he relies on superficial declarations of love from his daughters. Regan and Goneril flatter their father claiming unyielding love, while Cordelia, the daughter that Lear previously held closest to his heart, doesn’t quite flatter her father so blatantly. While Lear takes this as an insult, Cordelia is simply sure that her “love’s/ More richer than [her] tongue,” so there is no reason to even attempt to articulate her unabiding love for her father (I. i. 81-82). Lear’s egotism, however, prevents him from realizing that Cordelia actually does love him the most, so he capriciously disowns and banishes her from his kingdom. While King Lear’s naïveté makes him disown a daughter that does love him more than the others, the distinction in the quantity of how much a daughter loves her father is not nearly as evident in A Thousand Acres. In the novel, Caroline warns her father against incorporating the farm prematurely, which is shown in this dialogue between herself and Ginny: ‘He’s handling 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.’ ‘That’s another thing. I’m not ready to receive it. I think it’s a bad idea for him, and it’s certainly a bad idea for me. Frank was appalled when I told him.’ (Smiley 34)

Like how Cordelia will take no part in complementing her father, Caroline refuses to go along with the transfer of the farm, citing that it will not only have deleterious effects on Cook, but herself as well. In A Thousand Acres, it doesn’t seem like Cook chooses how to distribute his farm based on how much each daughter loves him, but the extent to which each daughter will stand up to him. Rose and Ginny go...
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