Literature Study GuidesA Thousand AcresBook 3 Chapters 18 20 Summary

A Thousand Acres | Study Guide

Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres | Book 3, Chapters 18–20 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 18

Ginny starts the third section of the book with another excursion into the history of Zebulon County, going back as far as the prehistoric period when Iowa lay under a great inland sea and the soil was formed. She recalls again the herculean efforts of her great-grandparents to drain the marshy land they found in 1890. She says in reverence, "Each acre was something to covet, something hard to get that enough of could not be gotten." In his greed to get more land, Larry was not averse to taking advantage of his neighbor's misfortune. Local farmer Bob Stanley and his relatives are still angry with Larry because he tricked one of their cousins into giving their farm to him just to repay the back taxes.

Larry didn't even let the death of his wife stop him. The day of her mother's funeral, the Ericsons told Ginny they had sold their farm to Larry. At that moment Ginny had realized how awful it was going to be to live alone with her father, just she and Rose on that isolated farm taking care of their little sister.

Five years later, at age 19, Ginny married Ty and moved to the Ericsons' empty house. Since then she has found a kind of peace in the thought that "what is, is, and what is, is fine."

Chapter 19

The marathon Monopoly game ends the night they find out from an article in the newspaper Caroline had gotten married to another attorney, Frank Rasmussen. Rose is angry, but Ginny feels the slight as a physical nausea.

Then the phone rings and Ty answers. Larry has wrecked his truck. He's in the emergency room of the hospital but can be discharged to come home. The nurse says he has been tested for blood alcohol level and Rose asks if he's been arrested. When Ty says no, Rose says he should have been. "It's about time." As Ginny and Ty drive to get her father, he tells her again she and Rose are handling their father wrong; they should just endure his behavior and solve each problem as it comes. Although she says she agrees, Ginny thinks of the 40-mile drive to the hospital as if it were a test of their marriage. She remembers how she sat in Sunday school singing "Jesus Loves Me" as a child as her first inklings of doubt in God began to intrude. She had loved Ty the way she once loved Jesus, uncritically, with faith. But now that is gone. She knows with certainty she will sleep with Jess.

Chapter 20

Ginny's father doesn't speak when they pick him up, but Ginny confronts him and tells him he can't keep driving everywhere, especially not while drinking. She even threatens to take away his truck keys and says he needs to do more for himself around his house. She is exhilarated by her boldness, but all he says is, "I got nothing." Angry, she thinks his self-pity is a ploy to gain sympathy, and notes he gave away the farm of his own accord. The next day she ignores his grunts and groans, watching dispassionately as he walks stiffly over to Ty's barn as she had instructed him to do.

But when Rose comes over and is furious with their father, Ginny inexplicably defends him, which makes Rose even angrier. "Don't you get tired of seeing his side?" Rose goes on to say sometimes she is consumed with hatred for Larry, and sometimes she hates Ginny, too. "You're such a good daughter, so slow to judge, it's like stupidity. It drives me crazy." Ginny doesn't return Rose's anger, but placidly admits, "I've let him get away with a lot of stuff."

Rose asks Ginny what she really thinks of their father. Ginny equivocates, not sure how she feels although she says she loves him. The more she talks, the more Rose stares, making Ginny nervous. But just when the reader thinks Rose is about to divulge something momentous, she stops. Instead, she agrees to go along with Ginny's plans to set rules for their father. It's clear Rose has no confidence in this at all.

Analysis

Even when he's not physically present, Larry is at the center of Ginny's thoughts in these three chapters. He is the indomitable liege at the heart of the great historical saga Ginny tells in Chapter 18, starting with the prehistoric era and extending through her great-grandparents in 1890 all the way to her own childhood. That was when her father's desire for land led him to relentlessly—and some local farmers say ruthlessly—do whatever was necessary to acquire his thousand acres.

After a long stretch of the novel where Larry is absent from the action, except as the subject of family consternation, he reappears in person in Chapters 19 and 20. Immediately after the sting of finding out her sister Caroline had gotten married without inviting her family to the wedding, the hospital calls the Smith house. Larry is in the emergency room after a drunk-driving accident in his truck. This double blow causes the cracks in the Cook family to deepen further. Rose erupts in anger and bitterness at both Caroline and Larry. But Ginny's reaction, as always, changes depending on whom she is talking to. When Ty tells her she and her sister are overreacting to Larry and should stop butting heads with him, Ginny is frustrated to the point where it causes permanent damage to her marriage. That is why she "realizes" she is going to sleep with Jess. It is her passive way of making a decision to give up on the hope of finding support from her husband and seek it elsewhere.

When talking to Larry the next day, Ginny for the first time confronts him directly, which is a huge step forward for her. But moments later, when Rose arrives and vents her anger over their father's behavior, Ginny suddenly and without explanation starts to defend him. This makes Rose even angrier, provoking her to the point where she almost reveals something about Larry. This is reminiscent of the unfinished conversation back in Chapter 13 when local farm wife Mary Livingstone starts to tell Ginny something about her father before they are interrupted. In this scene Rose stops herself from speaking, but readers are left with the strong impression whatever it was Rose didn't say, it was momentous.

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