Literature Study GuidesA Thousand AcresBook 4 Chapters 29 31 Summary

A Thousand Acres | Study Guide

Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres | Book 4, Chapters 29–31 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 29

After the disastrous church supper, Jess decides to move out of his father's house and stay at Larry's now-empty place. Ginny goes over to make up the bed in her old room with clean sheets, and lies down on the bed afterward. When she does, she is shocked by a sudden clear memory of her father lying on top of her, sucking her breasts. She jumps out of bed, moaning and thinking she doesn't have the strength to live with this new knowledge. Fearing the other "radioactive" memories she knows will come, she screams and screams until she wears herself out. She takes four aspirin and goes home. Her new life has begun.

Chapter 30

Ginny sees Jess only twice after the supper and things between them are awkward. She had hoped for comfort, or at least understanding, from him, but he is too lost himself to provide it. Ty is distant. And Ginny doesn't tell Rose about her newly recovered memories either. "It was easier to be her sympathetic supporter than her fellow victim," Ginny thinks.

Then Harold decides to give his corn crop an extra dose of fertilizer and there is a horrific accident. He accidentally sprays both his eyes with anhydrous ammonia, a caustic chemical fertilizer. In agonizing pain he tries to flush his eyes with water from a safety tank on top of the tank, but it is empty. He collapses and is found only when the cashier from the local convenience store drives past his field. His son Loren rushes him to the hospital, but it is too late. Ammonia eats away the corneas of the eyes in the first two minutes of contact. Harold is blinded for life.

Harold's accident seeps into all their relationships like grit from the mammoth dust storms in the 1930s. Ty explodes at Ginny, saying it doesn't seem like she cares about anything, although she was so upset she nearly threw up when she heard. She is dismayed at Rose's callous reaction. Talking about both Harold and her father, Rose says, "I don't care if they suffer," saying they mistake their suffering for redemption from their past crimes. Maybe Ginny and Jess can forgive their fathers, but Rose cannot afford to forgive Larry. "This is life and death for me. If I don't find some way to get out from under what Daddy's done to me before I die—" she says, breaking off when she thinks of her cancer and what it might mean for her life expectancy.

A week later Ken LaSalle drives up, delivering papers that state Caroline and Larry are suing to get the farm back. Ken delivers an extra humiliation, saying he doesn't want to be Ginny's lawyer because he doesn't think she and Rose treated their father right. Ginny feels like she's been slapped.

Chapter 31

Ginny reads the lawsuit and recalls at length how she had schemed to help Caroline get her dearest wish at the time, which was to appear in a high school play, despite their father's objections. Ginny has a mother's pride in Caroline's success, so the lawsuit feels like even more of a betrayal.

Shivering, her teeth chattering, she calls Caroline and they argue. Caroline is upset they "let" Larry go out into the storm. Ginny says Caroline wasn't there, that she doesn't realize they couldn't have stopped him. But Caroline says she talked to Ty, the implication being Ty agrees with her Ginny and Rose are to blame for driving Larry away. Ginny is so upset at this her vision clouds over in shades of red and black. She doesn't understand how Caroline can be so ungrateful to the sisters who raised her. "We saved you from Daddy," Ginny shouts, but of course Caroline doesn't understand. "Did I have to be saved from Daddy?" she says, hanging up.

Analysis

Just as in the Shakespearean tragedy on which the novel is based, disasters and catastrophes strike the characters at a merciless pace. There is no time for Ginny to recover from the public shaming at the church potluck. She goes to her father's now-empty house to prepare it so Jess can stay there after his fight with Harold. Lying down on the bed where she had slept when she was a teen flips a switch inside her, triggering the first devastating memory of Larry touching her in a sexual way.

The character of Harold Clark is given no respite either. Days after the scene he made at church, he is painfully blinded in an accident on his farm, an event which has a ripple effect on the relationships of other characters as well.

And as if that weren't enough, Ginny is served with legal papers stating her father and sister Caroline are suing to take back the farm. Still reeling from shock and disgust over remembering her father's sexual abuse, Ginny needs support, but there is no one to provide it. Rose is consumed with anger at Larry and a desire for justice. Both Ginny's husband Ty and her lover Jess are distant. The sister she raised has turned against her. Even the family attorney wants nothing to do with her, condemning the way she has treated her father. It is all almost more than Ginny can bear.

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