Comparison Between “King Lear” and “A Thousand Acres”

A look at the similarities and symbolism between Shakespeare’s "King Lear" and Jane Smiles "A Thousand Acres".

“A thousand acres” is a retelling of the classic story of King Lear through the eyes of Goneral and Regan. Shakespeare wrote the characters of Gonaeral and Regan as evil, manipulative, sociopaths who only desired their fathers power and loathed him for what he had. Smiley however adds a dramatic plot twist that shifts the daughters from bad to good and makes Lear the source of the conflict. “A Thousand Acres” uses the same elements as “King Lear” however now with new meanings, yet the most important difference is her regard to Justice. Jane Smiley changes the story from a tragedy to a happy ending. The change in the point of view for the story affects the symbolism that she uses and causes positive things like the storm and water from “king Lear” to represent negative things in her novel.

Water is the most obvious symbol to be redefined, it is usually Used to represent something pure and untainted, and it is used in “King Lear” to represent re-birth. In “A Thousand Acres” however, the water is the death of them, they poison it, steal it, use it up, and instead of the storm giving Lear clarity to who really loves him it drives Larry completely insane. The water gives Rose cancer, sterilizes Ginny, and blinds …….. It was Larry who poisoned the water when he brought chemicals to the farm however everyone knew about the poison in the water but decided to keep quiet about it. This causes them to share the blame from the effects of the water because they stood by and just watched the world burn. In the play Lear is cast out into the storm and left for dead, he goes on a mental journey of clarification and with the help of the fool realizes all his mistakes and apologies to Cordelia.

Justice is elusive in “King Lear” and at the end of the play it is just within the kings grasp until it suddenly vanishes and Cordelia dies causing him to die as well. Lear calls for justice and demands to know why his daughter is dead but other things live. In the novel however, literal justice is prominent revolving around the court case and just like in the play Lear/Larry loses. Yet there is a second type of justice in the novel, emotional justice, the charterers never feel like anything was resolved, all except for Ginny. At the end of the novel Ginny is the only one left who is at peace with her past and looks forward to the future. In the play Goneral dies a villain, but Jane Smiley allows her to live and gives her a, comparatively speaking, happy ending. At this point the novel is no longer a modernized re-telling of “King Lear” from Gonerals point of view, but fan fiction.  

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