The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Ginny, the book’s narrator, is also its central figure. A quiet farmwife who dislikes confrontations and remains emotionally dominated by her father, she is living with repressed memories of abuse and incest that have unknowingly shaped her adult life. Although she is outwardly content in her marriage, she longs for children and has spent most of her life accommodating herself to other people’s wishes. When memories of her father’s abuse resurface, her emotional world is shattered. The situation is exacerbated by her pain over the outcome of her affair with Jess. Her attempt to poison her sister is an outgrowth of her despair and long-suppressed anger; afterward, she is able to regain her emotional balance and begin a new life.
Rose has not repressed her memories of incest, and she is filled with rage and hatred for her father. Her own marriage is often unhappy and sometimes abusive, yet she is in many ways freer that Ginny. Rose is able to express herself openly and is unafraid of her own feelings. Yet, she too remains under her father’s thumb, spending her life as a farmer’s wife and giving in to Larry Cook’s demanding, domineering ways. Her determination to safeguard her own daughters gives a focus to Rose’s life, and she faces her death with courage, tying up loose ends and arranging for her children’s care.
Larry Cook remains largely an enigma as seen through the eyes of the daughters he has abused and molested. A hard,...
(The entire section is 573 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Virginia (Ginny) Cook Smith
Virginia (Ginny) Cook Smith, the narrator and the oldest of Larry Cook’s three daughters. Even after marriage to Ty Smith, Ginny is the mainstay of the Cook homestead, tending her widowed father, her ailing sister Rose, and the large farm on which they all live. After repressing the memory, Ginny later accepts the fact that Larry sexually molested his two oldest daughters. Ginny clashes with Larry over management of the farm and with Rose over affection for Jess Clark.
Laurence (Larry) Cook
Laurence (Larry) Cook, a proud Iowa farmer. A widower in his sixties, Larry cedes his thousand-acre operation to his daughters. When Caroline, his youngest daughter, proves unenthusiastic, he excludes her. Larry later regrets his premature retirement and, with the help of lawyer Caroline, battles to regain the farm.
Jessie (Jess) Clark
Jessie (Jess) Clark, Harold Clark’s prodigal son. He deserted from the Army during the Vietnam War. After thirteen years in Vancouver and then Seattle, Jess returns to Iowa as a vegetarian teetotaler who advocates organic farming. After a fling with Ginny, he marries Rose and then vanishes.
Rose Cook Lewis
Rose Cook Lewis, the second daughter of Larry Cook, whom she resents for abusing her during childhood. She is the mother of Pammy and Linda and the wife of Pete Lewis, after whose drowning she marries Jess...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
A Thousand Acres, set on a farm in Iowa, has a large cast, but the primary character is Ginny Cook Smith. The reader experiences events through Ginny's eyes. Deeply immersed in the routines of marriage, housekeeping, and farming, Ginny has not actually examined herself, her family, or her neighbors critically. This passivity has served her well during what — until she reaches her mid-thirties — appears to have been an uneventful life.
However, once her father decides to transfer ownership of the farm, Ginny must examine herself, her family, and her neighbors. She gradually realizes that under the placid surface lie agendas she has not recognized. Initially, she concentrates sympathetically on her father whose erratic, irrational, and drunken conduct baffles and eventually horrifies her. In her own eyes she has done nothing to justify "Daddy's" denunciations. In her concern, Ginny consults frequently with her sister Rose who reveals secrets about their father's incest which stagger Ginny but reawaken submerged memories. Her concept of Rose, too, undergoes change as Rose reveals the dynamics of her marriage to Peter Lewis, a former musician who made an uneasy truce with farming to marry her.
Ginny herself discovers her own sexual confusion when she finds herself increasingly attracted to Jess Clark. Jess brings news of different lifestyles, including organic farming and vegetarianism. Fascinated by Jess, Ginny eventually commits...
(The entire section is 425 words.)