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Comparing A Thousand Acres and King Lear

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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.

Cordelia: Nothing, my lord.

Lear: Nothing?

Cordelia: Nothing.

Lear: Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

Cordelia: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty/ According to my bond; nor more nor less. (Shakespeare I. i. 89-94)

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.

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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.



Comparing Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres and William Shakespeare's King Lear

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Comparing Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres and William Shakespeare's King Lear

Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres is a modern version of William Shakespeare's King Lear. The tragic ideas brought out by King Lear are revisited in A Thousand Acres both containing universal themes in which societies from past to present can identify with. Tragedy is a form of drama that depicts the suffering of a heroic individual who is often overcome by the very obstacles he is struggling to remove. The novel and play each contain distinct tragic elements that lead to the development of similar characters, plot, and images but both have distinct themes. A Thousand Acres provides a new interpretation of Shakespeare's classic tragedy allowing the…show more content…

He is upset about not having inheritance so comes up with a plan to convince Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son, that his father is angry with him. Edmund gives a false letter to his father, which says that Edgar is proposing that they kill their father Gloucester so they will be able to split the inheritance between them. This letter convinces Gloucester that he is unable to trust Edgar.

As the subplot develops Edmund purposely hurts himself in order to make it appear like Edgar has attacked him. Gloucester becomes fearful for his own safety so he promises to find a way to make Edmund his heir. After going into the woods Edgar decides that he will dress up in disguise himself as a beggar named Poor Tom so his father will not recognize him. While this is happening, Cornwall, Regan's husband, orders Kent to be placed in the stocks. Lear arrives to learn that Regan has teamed up with Goneril in seeking to reduce his authority. Lear becomes angry and reminds the girls that he is the one responsible for their shares of the kingdom.

Frustrated with his daughters Lear calls for his horse and rides into the storm with his Fool for protection. The loyal Fool realizes the harshness of the storm and attempts to reason with his king. Lear will not listen and does not want any part of submission. Soon the two run into Edgar who is disguised as Poor Tom.

Gloucester, unaware that Edmund is a traitor, tells of the plot to save the king.

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