Literature Study GuidesA Thousand AcresBook 4 Chapters 32 34 Summary

A Thousand Acres | Study Guide

Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres | Book 4, Chapters 32–34 | Summary



Chapter 32

Feeling feverish after talking to Caroline, Ginny drives to a quarry to swim. But the closer she drives to town, the more she is appalled at the thought of her neighbors judging them—and enjoying the thrill of judgment. She tries to think like a farmer, that this is like bad weather: something she can endure and still come out at the end of the season with a good crop.

Once at the quarry, Ginny finds the water too murky and choked with junk to swim in. She is surprised when her brother-in-law Pete shows up. He seems strangely unconcerned by the lawsuit, disconnected from everything, and says sometimes he wants to hurt someone. Their conversation is disjointed, awkward, with no sense of closure. Ginny worries maybe he knows about her and Jess, or about her and Larry, and she wonders if it would be a relief if everything came out into the open. No, she realizes immediately. "The one thing our family couldn't tolerate," she thinks, "was things coming into the open."

Chapter 33

She and Ty are growing farther apart, although part of that is because he is working around the clock to get the new hog operation complete. Then Ty angrily confronts her after finding the bloody nightgown and underwear she'd buried after her miscarriage last year. Six months earlier he might have found this tragic and felt sorry for her, but not now. Ty is focused on her lying to him about it, whereas she is wondering how things might have been different if she'd had a baby. But the longer they talk, the more grievances each one piles up. Ginny can't tolerate his patience and passivity, and he blames her and Rose for ruining his dreams for the hog operation because of the way they've treated Larry.

Hearing this, Ginny cannot stand to be inside with Ty anymore. She goes across the road to her father's house, where Jess is staying. He says he has missed her, and she says she loves him. With a look of pained remorse and unbearable kindness, all he says in reply is "Oh, Ginny." He doesn't love her.

Having nowhere else to go, Ginny is back home working by six, just in time to see Marv Carson and Ken LaSalle drive up to tell Ty to stop work on the expansion. Now his dreams are really dead.

Chapter 34

Two days later the minister Henry Dodge shows up, trying to make peace, but Ginny is having none of it. She asks him what purpose is served by making peace, and he's stumped. Then he says, "Families are better together. Working together," but she cannot agree. Finally she asks him to tell her what people are saying and he won't. So after he leaves she drives into Cabot on a mission to overhear local gossip but has little success. Then she sees Caroline with Larry in the clothing store, although they do not see her.

Larry bosses Caroline around a bit but then makes her sit down to reminisce, although the memory he recounts about a brown velveteen coat doesn't seem right to Caroline, or to Ginny either. Caroline says they need to talk to Rose and Ginny today, but Larry disagrees. "They'll be jealous. You know how they are. You're enough for me."

Those words, and the tone of voice in which he says them, make Ginny's head throb. She gets in her car and races to Rose's house and tells her what she overheard, and how it made her sick. From this Rose knows Ginny has remembered her abuse, but she makes Ginny say it. And although Rose says nothing in reply, her matter-of-fact return to activity reassures Ginny nonetheless.


One by one, Ginny's relationships with others all seem to be contaminated by the toxic fallout from the rift with her father. Jess had said chemicals in her well water probably led to her miscarriages, and now her relationships all seem to be miscarrying as well. First her father and sister Caroline, then her husband and lover, and now even the minister at her church let her down when she needs them the most.

The scene from Chapter 34 when Ginny overhears her father and Caroline in the store is a fascinating demonstration of the multiple powers of memory. Ginny's complete suppression of all recollection of Larry's sexual abuse shows how the mind can conceal truths too painful to bear. But in this scene, readers can see how memory can also serve either to clarify or distort the past. Larry's story about the brown velveteen coat is real, but intentionally or not, he assigns it to the wrong daughter. He tells Caroline she was the one with the coat, probably in an effort to create a stronger, more affectionate bond between them. His attempt misfires, however, because Caroline remembers having a red coat, not a brown one. And when Ginny overhears it, even though she's not sure what is wrong, her imperfect memory is still able to warn her something is amiss. She is able to confirm this later when she goes to Rose and discovers the loving story Larry had told about his "little bird" in the brown coat was about Rose, not Caroline at all. Ginny is not the only character in the book whose memory is fallible.

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