Goneril vs Jinny

It is amazing to me the extraordinary job that Jane Smiley has done with her book A Thousand Acres. The parallels that she draws with Shakespeare’s classic story of King Lear are unsurpassed by any book to which I have had the pleasure of reading. These two works represent an excellent example of literature that is able to engage readers young and old.

In A Thousand Acres, I read Ginny as being the reserved quiet daughter who, up until the very end, bends to her father’s tyranny. As a result of he fathers incestuous ways, and his constant verbal degradation and abuse of her and her sisters, Ginny bows to her father’s every whim. It is only when she realizes the awful things he has done to her that she finally takes a stand.

Upon reading King Lear we see that Ginny’s character is taken directly from that of Goneril in the story about the King who gives up his kingdom. Goneril has also been under the rule of her father for as long as she can remember and when the power becomes hers, she uses it to further her causes. Ultimately I see her as much more villainous than Ginny, only for the fact that situations were vastly different.

In comparing and contrasting the two Gemini-like characters I think you will see that, at least in my humble opinion (well, I must confess that I enjoyed reading A Thousand Acres much more than I did King Lear) you come away at the end hating the character of Goneril, while one is obliged to think that Ginny has suffered so much and that she finally has some good that she deserves. I feel that Ginny is not vindictive in the story, because we see that even up until the very end, she is attempting to be the peacemaker. She does try to do some good, at least in the light of the circumstances. If we were to apply the same lens to Goneril, I think you would find that she has her own best interests always close at hand, and the compassion in her body could be summed up by the size of her stirrup bone in her ear (coincidentally the smallest bone in the human body.)

I hope that you will not take offense at my obvious bias towards A Thousand Acres and specifically the character of Ginny. I find much more substance and emotion in her, and this helps me to appreciate her actions, even though I wouldn’t always agree with them.


Siley, Jane. A Thousand Acres. 1995

Shakespeare, William. King Lear.