Literature Study GuidesA Thousand AcresBook 5 Chapters 35 37 Summary

A Thousand Acres | Study Guide

Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres | Book 5, Chapters 35–37 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 35

Ginny's relationship to her body was forever changed when her father abused her. Sex with Ty makes her "touchy," and she always wears her nightgown. She scrubbed her body clean before her wedding night so Ty would not be repelled if she were not clean and odor-free. Then she was surprised there was no blood on the sheets after their wedding night. In other words, because she had completely suppressed all recollection of her father's abuse, she had thought she was still a virgin when she was not. It is only now she realizes this is more "evidence that my midnight experiences with Daddy had lifted off me, leaving no trace in my memory."

New memories resurface. She remembers pretending to be asleep when her father had sex with her. She never fought him but he would say, "Quiet now, girl. You don't need to fight me." But she doesn't remember the actual penetration, or how many times there were. What she remembered was just the top of his head, his callused hands, and the way he smelled of whisky and cigarettes and the farm.

But her memories are incomplete, so even now Ginny cannot judge him as harshly as Rose does, as if "through the cross hairs of a bombsight."

Chapter 36

Late in July Ginny, Ty, Rose, and Pete go to see their lawyer in Mason City. The consultation lasts two hours, and he tells them their best defense against the lawsuit is to farm their land and farm it well. So Ginny wears dresses and keeps her house so scrupulously clean she has no time for anything else. She thinks of her neighbors as a collective, judgmental "Eye" that can see what she is doing at all times. "That Eye was always looking, day and night, even when there were no neighbors in sight," she says.

Then, in a final paragraph remarkable for the abrupt change in topic as well as for the matter-of-fact way it reveals a new tragedy, Ginny says Pete is dead. In just four sentences, she states Pete got so drunk the blood test later showed he shouldn't have been conscious. He took his gun, threatened Harold, then drove his truck into the quarry and drowned.

Chapter 37

Rose stumbles up the road toward Ginny's house at six in the morning after the sheriff informs her Pete is dead. She asks Ginny to go to the house and watch the girls while the sheriff takes her to the quarry. Ginny sets about making breakfast for Pammy and Linda as if they were her own daughters, even thinking for a moment it would be better for them if she were their mother. She lets the girls chatter on about their plans and cannot bring herself to tell them about their father's death, not even when Linda senses something is wrong and asks Ginny.

Ginny is reminded she was in school when her mother died, and how she knew from the "terrifyingly sympathetic" look on the teacher's face what had happened. She remembers days of sitting and doing nothing while people talked and cooked. "Our job, it appeared, was to sit quietly in the living room, without reading or playing games." With a pang, Ginny realizes she has nothing more to offer her nieces than people had offered her after her mother died.

After Rose comes home and tells the girls, Ginny slams the door behind her to drown out the sound of the girls' cries. In the days to come, "the marvelous engine of appearances" cranks up and they get through the funeral. Caroline and Frank send a small wreath but Larry does not come. Then Rose calls in the middle of the night and asks Ginny to come down to talk.

Analysis

For someone whose mind has walled off so many memories, Ginny spends a lot of time reflecting on her past. In Chapter 35 she recalls everything from an accidental aspirin overdose when she was three years old to her wedding night with Ty. The thread connecting all these memories is how her father's sexual abuse has divorced her from her own body, so much so she didn't even realize she was not technically a virgin when she married Ty. Yet in the process of reflecting on her life, she is rewarded—or cursed—with a brand-new memory: that of her father's callused hands and whiskey-tainted breath as he lay on top of her in bed.

Ginny abruptly segues from this to the stark announcement of Pete's death. The characters themselves do not seem entirely clear whether it was an accident or suicide. But since Pete was drunk, and since he had terrorized Harold Clark with a gun just before driving into the quarry, the sense is Pete is responsible for his demise either way. But his death, and its effect on his two young daughters, prompts yet another torrent of memories for Ginny: that of her mother's death 22 years ago when Ginny was only 14.

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