Literature Study GuidesA Thousand AcresBook 3 Chapters 21 23 Summary

A Thousand Acres | Study Guide

Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres | Book 3, Chapters 21–23 | Summary



Chapter 21

Ginny starts asserting authority with her father, laying down rules to try and control his increasingly erratic behavior. She then becomes irritated with Ty because he disapproves. By contrast Jess approves. He is dealing with similar issues with his own father. Harold has started criticizing everything about his son Loren, even his weight. He talks openly about changing his will in what Jess assumes is his favor.

Despite her annoyance with Ty, they have sex one night after she gets aroused thinking about Jess. Later Ty gets angry with her because she forgot to use her diaphragm. He has insisted upon birth control ever since the third miscarriage because he cannot handle any more disappointment.

The very next day, out in the dump which has become their special place, Ginny has sex with Jess for the first time. Although she feels awkward and isn't able to have an orgasm at first, she still feels closer to him than she does to her husband. In fact, Ginny is able to tell Jess something she has been hiding from Ty: she has had five miscarriages, not just the three Ty knows about. Jess gets angry, saying the miscarriages are caused by nitrates contaminating her well water.

Chapter 22

Ty finally is able to realize his long-cherished dream of expanding the hog operation. He borrows $300,000 from Marv Carson at the bank to make it happen. Ty is sure this new project will get Larry to show interest in the farm again, but it doesn't.

Feeling restless and a bit guilty, fantasizing about possible futures with Jess, Ginny drives her father to the chiropractor and they argue about whether Ginny can go shopping. Larry wants her to wait right there for him in the car, despite the 95-degree heat. Ultimately she capitulates. "Where was the power I had felt only a few days before?" she wonders.

Trying to reassert herself, Ginny tells Larry when they return home he needs more exercise, which provokes his anger. He demands more respect from her, to which she responds he doesn't respect his daughters. Larry retorts he worked hard to give her and her husband a good living and so he doesn't have to consider her point of view. And once again, Ginny gives in to him, as she always does. "What did we deserve, after all? There he stood, the living source of it all."

Chapter 23

When Ginny drops Larry off at his house later, she knows he is unhappy but has no inkling of trouble. Then at nine Rose calls to say that Larry has "stolen" Pete's truck in the midst of a tornado watch. Pete is furious with Larry. But in what seems like an odd reaction, Rose brings her daughters over to Ginny's house, young Linda noting her mother doesn't want them alone in case their grandfather comes over.

Finally Ty tracks Larry down and brings him to the house, telling Ginny her father has something he wants to say to her and Rose. The girls try to coax him back to his own home, but Larry objects, complaining they have "stuck him there." This makes no sense to them because it's the house where he has lived his entire life. But he gets so angry about this he says he'd rather go out in the storm. In a moment of exasperation, Ginny tells him to go do it. Larry unleashes a torrent of abuse, calling both her and Rose bitches, sluts, and barren whores.

Ty says nothing, but Rose yells maybe he has Alzheimer's and he should apologize. "Don't you make me out to be crazy," Larry shouts, saying he won't let them put him into the county home. He yells he gave them everything and they have given him nothing, and Rose retorts, "We never asked for what you gave us, but maybe it is high time we got some reward for what we gave you!" Ginny adds he doesn't deserve the care they have been giving him. From now on, he's on his own.

Larry threatens to get his land back and throw them off, cursing Ginny with infertility and saying Rose's daughters will laugh when she dies. He lurches out into the storm, punching Pete in the face while lightning and thunder crash outside. Rose says she hopes he dies as Larry disappears into the downpour.


Halfway through the book in Chapter 23, Smiley recreates the famous storm scene from King Lear. But there are significant differences. In Shakespeare's version the storm happens earlier in the plot, in the second act of the play rather than at the midway point as here in the novel. Also, Shakespeare merges Lear's rant against his daughters Goneril and Regan with the storm itself, having Lear rush out to deliver his tirade in the howling winds and torrential rain. Lear is in real jeopardy when he does this. In the novel, however, there is never any sense Larry is in physical danger, despite what neighbors will claim later in the book. By the time Larry leaves, the tornado watch is over. The other characters follow him out into the thunder and lightning without anyone worrying about their safety. It is as if the real storm in this chapter is not the one in the atmosphere. It is the emotional storm inside Ginny's farmhouse—and that one is worse than a tornado.

It is unclear to readers, just as it is to Rose, what is happening with Larry. Perhaps he has had too much to drink, although that would not explain the strangeness of his behavior when sober. Rose suggests the possibility he might have Alzheimer's disease, and it's true that bursts of anger do sometimes occur in patients who suffer from that form of dementia. But the family had considered this earlier and rejected the possibility because Larry's memory is good. Rather, it is the interpretation he places upon events that seems bizarre. So perhaps he is crazy, in the psychiatric sense of being paranoid, suspicious, and increasingly disconnected from reality. That would fit many of the things Larry says in this scene.

From his perspective there may also be some truth to what Larry says. The grievances he voices against his daughters—however cruelly and melodramatically he may phrase them—are rooted in reality as he perceives it to be. Larry was taught to honor his parents and grandparents, so he believes his daughters owe him filial respect simply because he is their father. And like many aging parents, Larry is finding it difficult to adjust to his changing role in the family. Although it was his decision to retire and give the farm to his daughters, he was not prepared emotionally for the long, empty days and the shift of decision-making power to a younger generation.

The characters do not come to a conclusion in Chapter 23 about what is wrong with Larry. Smiley leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves what lies at the root of his outbursts.

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