Jane Smiley, 1992 Pulitzer Prize winning author, uses the characters changing personalities and attitudes in A Thousand Acres, to demonstrate the major effect the break up of a family can have on people. Many of the characters change through the novel with becoming more introverted and others becoming more outspoken.
One of the main people to change in the novel is Ginny. Ginny, is the narrator and also the protagonist of the novel. However, she is still has one major factor that remains throughout the novel - she worries about people. In chapter 28, when she first sees her father, Larry, after him staying at Harold Clarks house, she says that the sight of him startled her. Also she immediately says to Rose, her sister, look at him, showing that she is still caring for people and shows her pity. This is a constant attribute of Ginnys throughout the novel as she always made breakfast for Larry and worried when he would drink and drive, no matter how he treated her. The first part of the chapter is on Ginnys description of Larrys disheveled look and she describes not only his clothing and hair, but also his demeanor. His hair is all standing on end, Ginny states showing that she is watching him quite closely, and suggesting that she still persists on worrying about him, even after Harold told her he had called her and Rose whores and he wished hed had sons. Being from the small town of Cabot, in Zebulon county, another point of worry for Ginny is what other people in town think of her and her family, for example when Harold and Larry are talking to other people at the church potluck she says, I longed to hear what he was saying She says this as if she is worried about what he might be saying about her and Rose, even though it was ultimately Larrys choice to stay out in the rain storm, she still felt ashamed. This is a continuation of the behavior she showed earlier in the novel when she was concerned about what people would think or say about the family, after Larry suddenly decided to sell the farm to her and Rose. She thought people would think that they were taking advantage of the old man. Ginny is still quite loyal to Larry, although he physically and sexually abused her and Rose growing up. Ginny had totally blocked out what had happened until Rose said, he went into your room at night. He was having sex with you. At the time she refused to believe it was true, but eventually it all came back to her.
Ginny does get more confident and less submissive, as the book progresses she moves from being timid and not wanting confrontation to actually seeking out her father at the church dinner and wanting to know what he has been saying. Another pivotal turning point in Ginnys character was the night of the horrible thunderstorm. Larry was standing in the rain demeaning Ginny and Rose when Ginny says, All weve ever really had is each other. We havent done anything wrong except try our best with you. However, even though she has stood up to her father, she is still being intimidated and controlled by Rose as she is told what to do at the church dinner and not to drown in that ocean of pitying him. There is also a sense of temptation when Rose declares that destroying their father isnt enough. Rose says, it was intoxicating ,too, as sweet and forbidden as anything I have ever done, and this is parallel to the other temptations she has had with Jess and partly with Pete at the quarry.
Ginny never strays from the fact that she is loyal to Rose and constantly sticks by her against Larry, Harold and Pete dies. This the same throughout the novel until rose betrays her by being with Jess Clark. It is evident that Ginny still has an obsession with Jess as the smile he gives when he enters the room in one that, I felt myself hook onto. This is an ongoing theme throughout the novel of the affair with Jess and only stops once she finds out about Jess and Rose. Ginny feels so betrayed by her sisiter that she goes so far as to put water hemlock, which is poisonous and can be fatal, into a batch of liver sausage she made for Rose.
Ginny is still showing naivety when it comes to Harolds motives in bringing them all together at a table at the church dinner, as it takes Jess telling her that he is skeptical to make her think about it. This is another personality trait of Ginnys, she sees the best in people and doesnt suspect anyone. This is partly why she doesnt find out about Jess and Rose until quite late on, and why she didnt realize Harold got them together at church to make a spectacle and humiliate them in public. Ginny still show signs of being afraid of confrontation as her heart began to pound. She is afraid of even the possibility of confronting her father in front of people. Further evidence of her fear is apparent in a few places in the novel, when she just agrees with her father to avoid argument, and when Ginny, Rose, and the two girls leave the church dinner to avoid a further scene. Ginny has a feeling throughout the novel of not being able to escape the life that she has had trust on her by her father, this continued until almost the end of the novel, as she says, we went straight home, as if there were no escape. At the end of the chapter Ginny has another fantasy about just leaving the farm. She always thinks about leaving but never actually plucks up the courage until the end. An attribute of Ginnys that is most likely caused by major intimidation of her father, which is shown throughout the novel. She does make major changes in her attitude near the end of the novel as she leaves the farm, and goes to Minnesota, and gets her own apartment and a job working in a diner.
Another character that changes dramatically throughout the novel is Larry. He begins as a stubborn, strong-minded farmer and ends up as a weak-minded old man. His descent into senility is highlighted toward the end of the novel, as he keeps repeating the same phrase over and over again, Their children put them there. In reference to children putting their parents into a nursing home and he is afraid it is going to happen to him. This is in complete contrast to earlier in the novel when he was the one in charge.
Throughout the novel Larry shows an extreme deterioration as he ends up having to be led everywhere when before he was working on the farm until dusk. There is further evidence of this when they are at the hearing for the farm, and he is sure his daughter, Caroline, is dead and she is in the courtroom with him. Again, this is contrasting to previous depictions of him as he would demand everyones attention was on him when he was speaking and demand to have his meals at a particular time everyday, whereas now he barely recognizes anyone is there. Ginny proves this by saying, Daddy was staring at us as if he had just noticed us for the first time Ginny also mentions that she was amazed that her father was grateful to someone for getting him a drink, because he has never said been in the habit of saying thank you to anyone.
Although in the end it is evident that Larry has a mental disability, in the beginning when his daughters first start to worry about him he is actually not as senile as he looks, but trying to get sympathy from others. An example of his deception, is when he arrives at the church dinner, looking disheveled and hair a mess, which is actually a ploy by him and Harold to get sympathy for the towns people. The way Larry acted with Harold is how he used to be, always trying to manipulate Ginny and Rose to do what he wanted.
Larry demonstrates his stubbornness as every time Ginny tries to talk to him he just turns away and ignores her. I took another two steps, but he clearly backed away, said Ginny, describing Larrys voice as tentative which is completely different to what it used to be as he used to have an aggressive rumble. Larry also demonstrates his need to cling to somebody throughout the novel first with Ginny and Rose, and later with Harry and Caroline, suggesting under his gruff exterior he is really lonely. Character development and progression are aspects of this novel that Jane Smiley deemed significantly important. Considering a majority of the novel deals with the evolution of the characters, and getting to know them intricately.
A THOUSAND ACRES