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Covert Control In Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres

754 words - 3 pages

Covert Control in A Thousand Acres


Though there are instances of overt control and destruction performed by the patriarchy upon both women and nature, the most pervasive forms the Apollonian controlling impulse takes, are covert. What Ginny says about Larry, also goes for the system of which he is the ultimate signifier: "I feel like there's treacherous undercurrents all the time. I think I'm standing on solid ground, but then I discover that there's something moving underneath it, shifting from place to place."(104).

The most striking example of this, is of course the secret of the incest. But throughout the novel, there is an interplay of social imperatives and individual expression, a power struggle of discourses. This struggle is hidden under a shiny hard surface maintained by patriarchal control, as when Jess left for Canada to avoid the draft and "slipped into the category of the unmentionable" (6), or in Ty's own desires having to be "camouflaged with smiles and hopes and patience" until he becomes his own mask; "casting no shadow, radiating no heat" (306).

As signified by the motif of the tiles, and its many metaphoric implications, the community that Ginny lives in, especially her family, is ruled by a network of masks concealing the real motivations of people. For Ginny, this is even internalized into her understanding of her own body as layered with meaning:

I seemed, on the surface, to be continually talking to myself, giving myself instructions or admonishments, asking myself what I really wanted, making comparisons, busily working my rational faculties over every aspect of Jess and my feelings for him as if there were actually something to decide. Beneath this voice, flowing more sweetly, was the story: what he did and what I did and what he then did and what I did after that, seductive, dreamy, mostly wordless, renewing itself ceaselessly, then projecting itself into impossible futures that wore me out. And beneath this was an animal, a dog living in me, shaking itself, jumping, barking, attacking, gobbling at things the way a dog gulps its food.(172)

The surface is the many imperatives issued by her father and the system he represents: didactic force...

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