Literature Study GuidesA Thousand AcresBook 2 Chapters 8 10 Summary

A Thousand Acres | Study Guide

Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres | Book 2, Chapters 8–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 8

Ginny recalls the history of their former neighbor Cal Ericson, who farmed on a small scale and thus was doomed to failure, according to her father. In fact, the house she and Ty now live in belonged to the Ericsons and was acquired by Larry when Cal did indeed fail. Nonetheless, Ginny describes her father's ambition as a conservative one. He didn't want to be rich, nor to leave a legacy for his children, but he did want to look good in his neighbors' eyes and to stay out of debt. And always he wanted to acquire more land.

But now that he has deeded the farm to his daughters, Larry seems to have instantly given up on life. At dinner her father says little in response to any comments or questions about the business. He tells Ginny and Ty that Marv Carson is their landlord now.

The next day Ginny is planting tomatoes in her garden and Jess shows up. He tells her the sad story of his Canadian fiancée and how, after her death in a car accident, he drank so much he got alcohol poisoning, and has been sober ever since. In return Ginny tells him about Rose's breast cancer and in the process reveals Jess's mother died of breast cancer while he was away. Harold refused to contact Jess, not even when his mother was hoping he'd call in the last two weeks of her life. Jess is furious at this revelation. Although as usual Ginny's response seems muted, especially given the vehemence of Jess's emotions, the two of them do forge a connection during this exchange.

Chapter 9

Rose gets a reassuring report at her checkup three months after her mastectomy and is so relieved and happy she wants to go shopping for a dress, spending money to "scandalize" their father. But after seeing her scarred body in the mirror while trying on clothes, she doesn't buy anything. Instead, the sisters talk about Caroline. Rose is angry at her. "She just can't stand to be one of us, that's the key," Rose says. She decides she doesn't want to go out for a celebratory dinner after all. When they return home, Ginny reflects on how close she and Rose are, in contrast to their emotional distance from Caroline.

Chapter 10

Caroline is the focus of Ginny's thoughts at the start of this chapter as she recalls how she and Rose raised her from the age of six after their mother died. Despite how loving Caroline acted toward her father when she was a child, Larry didn't want her to have things like store-bought clothes or a weekly allowance. It was Ginny and Rose who worked and sacrificed in order to give Caroline those things. "We covered for her and talked Daddy out of his angers," Ginny thinks and is pleased with how Caroline turned out. But Caroline never returns the praise. "Why didn't either of you ever leave? I can't believe you never had any other plans," Caroline often complains.

Ginny drives past her father's house and spots him through the window, sitting motionless in his chair. Worried, Ginny stops to check, and Larry is irascible. He barely responds to her, rejecting all her offers to help him, and just sits there, doing nothing. Even Rose is worried about that. She calls later to ask why he's just sitting in front of the window. "Perfecting that death's head stare will be his lifework from now on," Rose says.

After this Ginny decides she is finally going to make the phone call to Caroline she has been putting off since Larry signed the papers. But then she hesitates, and chooses to put it off a few more days.

Analysis

Ominously, Larry seems to lose complete interest in his farm after giving it to his daughters. He doesn't use his newfound leisure to travel, cultivate a new hobby, or even lounge in the coffee shop downtown to swap stories with other retired farmers. He doesn't offer advice to his sons-in-law Ty and Pete about the farm, not even when asked. All he does is sit in his chair all day, which worries Ginny and Rose, although both their husbands shrug this off. Ginny considers calling Caroline about this, the implication being Larry is reacting to the argument with his youngest daughter and would start acting more like himself if Caroline apologized.

Since she and Rose raised Caroline from the age of six, Ginny has more of a maternal than a sisterly relationship with her youngest sister. She takes a mother's pride in Caroline's accomplishments, especially in the independence Caroline has shown in becoming a lawyer rather than a farm wife. Rose, on the other hand, resents Caroline's choice because she sees that it is, at least in part, a rejection of them and the lives they have chosen. Oddly, Ginny seems blind to that. Even when Caroline castigates them for not leaving the farm, Ginny is not offended. She doesn't think perhaps her reluctance to call Caroline is because she is hurt by Caroline's negative judgment of her choices.

While her relationships with both her father and Caroline are deteriorating, there is one bright spot in Ginny's life. In the conversation she has with Jess when he comes to visit her in the vegetable garden, Ginny's emotional reserve is breached a little. Although she listens to Jess's tragic tale with the placidity that has made some reviewers call her "bovine," Ginny is touched by Jess. This is revealed in a typically understated remark in which Ginny says she can't believe she ever thought Jess's smile was "just charming." It's a fleeting comment, but for Ginny, it is a significant admission.

Note also two characters in the novel have now suffered breast cancer: Rose and Jess's dead mother. Although Ginny hasn't said how her mother died, it is possible she is a third instance of cancer among the farm wives in Zebulon County.

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