Ginny’s as a Barren Whore in Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres
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Ginny’s as a Barren Whore in A Thousand Acres
Into her womb convey sterility,
Dry up in her the organs of increase,
And from her derogate body never spring
A babe to honor her.
(King Lear, I.iv. 285-288)
Within the logic of the novel, it is soon established that Ginny understands and feels external reality through her body, and the most important instance of this is her bodily urge to have children. The sight of Rose's daughters, contrasted with her own miscarriages, Ginny says, "affected me like a poison. All my tissues hurt when I saw them, when I saw Rose with them, as if my capillaries were carrying acid into the furthest reaches of my system"(8).
The body of any subject, it can be argued, is also a social body, not only a site of signification for the subject her- or himself, but for other people and society in general. In her despair and jealousy after losing Jess to Rose, Ginny expresses the problematic belief that having children somehow is a universal marker of human worth. This view of her own body as a failure both biologically and socially; that her body "had failed to sustain Jess Clark's interest, to sustain a pregnancy"(307), signals that she is still within the confines of a patriarchal system that sees women as property on a line with animals and the earth. The system, of which Larry Cook is the King, is able to criticize a childless woman, especially when she is "old for a breeder"(13).
It is no wonder, then, that Ginny goes on trying to have children even after Ty egotistically wants to stop trying because he can't take the disappointment. It becomes a way for Ginny to reclaim control over her body, a secret project through which she can live a second life that is free from social imperatives that ultimately originate with the transcendental signifier, the great "I AM"(211) of Larry Cook. It is telling that her reflections upon her "secret world", full of "secret, passionate wishes" are interrupted by a sudden reminder that her past and present life is dominated by her father's world and her father's wishes (26-27).
This secret world and these secret wishes are thwarted, in fact it turns out that they have always been illusions because nitrates in the water have caused her infertility. A Thousand Acres continually makes connections between patriarchy and capitalism, critiquing exploitation of women and nature in industrial farming alike.