Character Analysis of Rose Cook in a Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
In her fictional novel, A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley develops a group of dynamic and realistic characters. Smiley makes Rose Cook especially realistic and dynamic by creating a central incident in Rose’s life that changes the very way she thinks and matures. These characteristics are so deeply entwined in her character that they are what distinguishes her from her sister, Ginny, who underwent a similar traumatic experience in the book. Rose’s central incident in the story is being raped by her father which creates three distinct characteristics: hatred of her father, a bleak view of the world, and rebelliousness.
The raping of Rose by her father, Larry, created a hatred of him within her that is unmatched by Ginny in the book. This hatred manifests itself in different ways—from pure hatred of her father to even a hatred for all those that remind her of him like Ginny at times. This unabridged hatred for Larry is displayed when Rose is talking about her father to Ginny. “Sometimes I hate him. Sometimes waves of hatred just roll through me, and I want him to die, and go to hell and stay there forever, just roasting” (Smiley 150). Rose’s hatred is not one that is to be taken lightly. This thought alone is not even enough for Rose: “[I want to] look him in the eye, and see that he knows what he did and what it means” (235). Rose’s thoughts on her father are contradicted by Ginny, who, in response to Rose asking “…you don’t really hate him?”, says, “I don’t. I really don’t. He’s a bear, but—“ (150).
This demonstrates that the hatred Rose has for her father is not characteristic even for her sister who went through a similar traumatic experience as Rose. Rose’s hatred toward her father also once turned outward toward Ginny. “Sometimes, I hate you too… I hate you because you’re the link between me and him” (151). The event was so traumatic for Rose that even a mere reminder can also create hatred for her sister. Rose obtained a bleak view of the world after she was raped by her father which separates her from her sister in the novel. Rose’s outlook on the world is portrayed when she talks with Ginny after Harold becomes blind. “Weakness does nothing for me. I don’t care if [Larry and Harold] suffer. When they suffer, then they’re convinced they’re innocent again. Don’t you think Hitler was afraid and in pain when he died? Do you care?” (234).
Rose has lost sympathy for not only her father, but also for her fellow man. Ginny, in response to Rose’s “I don’t care if they suffer”, reminds Rose “But this is Harold, not Daddy” (234). This again shows the rift between Rose and Ginny as Ginny is able to ‘forgive and forget’ what Harold has done to their family and does not believe he deserves being blind. Rose believes punishment should come to those who perform bad deeds regardless of who they are: “There’s got to be something, order, righteousness. Justice, for God’s sake” (235). Rose’s rebelliousness also stemmed from her father’s rape of her and differentiates her from Ginny in that Rose is not afraid to talk back to or upset her father. Rose shows her rebellious side after she received good news on her recovery from breast cancer: “I still want to do something special. Something that would scandalize Daddy. Just to mark the occasion” (59).
She seems to think along the lines of ‘he has already disrespected me, so why should I respect him?’ Ginny, when trying to convince her father to bring the wood cabinets in from the rain, says “I wished Rose was there, since she knew how to talk back to him” (81). This not only shows Rose’s own rebelliousness, but it also shows the difference between her and Ginny. Ginny is afraid to talk back to Larry while Rose has no problem doing so. All of Rose’s thoughts and characteristics stemmed from the traumatic event of her rape and an understanding of this can lead to a better understanding of the book’s theme of how family issues can quickly escalate into hatred and betrayal.
Near the end of the book, Rose explains to Ginny why the rape was such a central incident in both of their lives: “Say the words, Ginny. If he hadn’t fucked us and beat us we would think differently, right?” (302). This statement sums up the whole reason this incident is important to the story. A decent comprehension of the incident and its effect on the entire family dynamic can reveal more about a major theme of the book. The rape alludes directly to the theme of betrayal in A Thousand Acres. Rose and Ginny both are betrayed by their father when he rapes them and they, in turn, abandon him once he gives up the farm.