Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres offers a plethora of situations involving the idea of power. There is one word used by Smiley that seems to display the masculine power in her novel. The idea of gazing, whether at someone or something, is a traditionally male action. Larry Cook is a man in control in this novel. Ty also shows instances of showing his control throughout this novel. Smiley uses this action of “gazing” to display the power that both men have within maintaining control.
Researcher Sandra Thomas states in her journal article on Men’s Anger, “Having control, and maintaining control, was viewed [by research participants] as desirable” (169). Not only does Smiley’s use of the word “gaze” display the power of these men, but the female characters within the story also realize the power that gazing holds. I will take a closer look at the characters of Ty and Larry in the novel to provide examples of these men being in control. Larry Cook is a dominant figure in A Thousand Acres.
It can be speculated that his dominance is gained due to his incestual, violent, and abusive behavior. His dominance and control is realized most often by Ginny, the narrator. An example of this is when she states, “Instinctively, I followed [Dad’s] gaze, just to check on what he might be thinking about before disturbing him” (Smiley, 145). Larry makes a few gazes like this throughout the novel. Ginny goes on to state that these gazes give her a “room-darkening chill” (Smiley, 318). This type of feeling is somewhat disturbing. Ginny realizes her father’s authority and identity.
Whether or not Larry gazes consciously or unconsciously is not the point here, the point is that Ginny realizes his dominance and control just from how he goes about looking at things. Most of these gazes that I will mention are also followed by an uneasy silence, which is a strong argument that these gazes are conscious and for a reason. To discuss these silences, Lerner provides a good conversation on efforts and fighting to change a person in the article “The Challenge of Anger”. When attempts are unsuccessful, “our fighting protect the old familiar patterns in our relationships as surely as the silence of “nice ladies” (9).
I found this relatable to the silence of the action of the gaze. The fight to change the girls’ father is lost. Larry is stubborn and another point is that he doesn’t listen to others because of his desire to maintain control himself. It can be speculated that Larry Cook’s behavior is similar to that of a participant in Thomas’s research, who stated he did not feel as much of a man because he could not “impact [his] environment the way [he] wanted to” (Thomas, 168). Is Larry’s stubborn behavior a display to others who he is as a man, that he is the one who is in control?
Later in the novel Larry makes another concerning gaze, “His gaze would drift around the room for a while then fix on something and he’d stare at that thing or person for minutes at a time” (Smiley, 318). Larry’s act of gazing seems to be a type of masculine confidence he has to consistently show he is in charge. He doesn’t seem to even care about simple conversation with the girls. For instance, he doesn’t respond to Caroline when she speaks at him but instead he “smiled fondly, though not necessarily at her” (Smiley, 318).
Is it Larry’s anger, lack of respect or prior incest that gives him this power over these women? Or all three ideas? Larry is so dominant and so powerful that Ginny has to pause and watch him before she disturbs him. Larry has the masculine confidence to not respond to Caroline. On the other hand, these non-responsive actions display the powerlessness that the girls have with Larry (and later Ginny with Ty, described in this essay). Smiley does not hold back in showing the lack of power these women have compared to male figures.
Thomas states in her article on Women’s Anger, “Family members were the most frequently cited triggers of women’s anger, although women reported unwillingness to discuss their anger with these same family members” (Thomas, 505). A conversation about the stubbornness of Larry goes no where because of his radical and uncooperative ideals. Ginny even has issues bringing up problems with her own husband. Ty is well liked by Larry for his passion for farming. As a husband however, Ty does not seem to pay much attention to his wife, Ginny. Ty is much more interested in his self interests.
Powerlessness against Ty, Ginny becomes mad with Ty, but tries to resist her anger, “I knew that I shouldn’t be mad at Ty for being what he’d always been, patient, understanding, careful, willing to act as the bulwark against my father, but I was made at him” (Smiley, 155). Ty was in control, so Ginny was to resist these thoughts. This relates to Thomas’ ideas of an “unwillingness to discuss their anger with these same family members” (505). That is how she grew up with her father, Larry as well. This is an interesting connection between Ty and Larry, and puts Ginny in a difficult position.
Like Larry, Ty also shows instances of being in control with his gaze, “Ty was looking at me, and I could see in his gaze a veiled tightly contained delight—he had wanted to increase the hog operation for years” (Smiley, 19). No words were needed from Ty. The silence of the gaze is very similar to that of Larry’s. Also, Ty’s way of looking at Ginny was selfish because they assured that Ty’s aspirations are of utmost importance, not considering the goals of the female Ginny. The gaze was obviously recognized by Ginny, too, as she is the narrator.
This instance relates back to the general these themes of masculine confidence and the powerlessness of women that I interpreted from Smiley’s writing. Men have the power and control over women, and that is the status quo. It does not have to be verbally stated. Furthermore, I argue that Ty is resonates with Larry as a father figure, so Larry’s influence seems to be rubbing on Ty. Evidence of the influence of Larry is shown from the following statement: “One was that Daddy’s and Pete’s storms following statement: “One was gave a quiet steady worker like Ty lots of power, because not only would he calmly pursue his aims while they ranted, more ften than not each of them would appeal to him for support. He would propose a solution, his solution.
One reason for discounting his disapproval, I started to think, was the new way| saw him pursuing his self-interest all these years. ” (Smiley, 154) Ginny realizes the selfishness that Ty has. This passage represents how both Larry and Ty want to individually maintain control or have “his solution. ” Why do men get what they want? How has this become a tradition and what gives Larry and Ty this confidence to have and maintain control.
Ginny is able to see the power of Larry and Ty just by seeing the way they are looking at someone or something. It is so provoking that Smiley was able to make such a simple action of eye contact such symbol of power within the novel. I want keep this discussion off of the topic of Ginny, and rather on the power of Ty and Larry (male figures). But Ty and Larry show they are “Not being listened to is perhaps the epitome of powerlessness” (Thomas, 505). This novel offers these situations involving the idea of men in power and maintaining control.
The action and idea of gazing is a strong symbol of power that men hold in the novel. I think that this essay makes a strong argument that gazing, whether at someone or something, is a traditionally male action. The novel brings the lack of equality men and women have. The men are in control, but why? The female characters realize their power and continue to stay within that authority. Ty and Larry do not Smiley uses this action of “gazing” to display the power that both men have within maintaining control.