The up in society that can influence one’s behaviour

The words “authority” and “power” are important terms brought up in society that can influence one’s behaviour and mindset. In modern society, wealth, power and high social status is a greed that people crave and will want to maintain no matter what. Although the novel King Lear by William Shakespeare was written in 1606, there is a common theme that can be compared and contrasted to the modernized version of the novel, A Thousand Acres written by Jane Smiley in 1951. In both novels, Jane Smiley and William Shakespeare demonstrates that power is solely obtained based on the sexist patriarchy in society. Whether that means in the seventeenth century or centuries after in the twentieth century, men are always on top of the patriarchy and are given power due to their stereotypical capabilities of strength and superiority while women were subjugated by their inferior female gender roles. This is shown in both novels through the use of characterization and the relationships between the families. In King Lear, Shakespeare tells the story through a male dominant perspective while in A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley writes through a female’s perspective of Ginny, using the parallel characters Goneril and Ginny, Cordelia and Caroline, and King Lear and Larry. William Shakespeare and Jane Smiley portrays societal patriarchy in which it privileges men to have more power over women due the ongoing sexist portrayal that women are inferior to men due to their capabilities. The power men have over women gives males certain advantages over females and this is evidently shown through King Lear and Larry as well as their daughters’ husbands. In the novel King Lear, William Shakespeare creates the protagonist King Lear to have all the power over the rest of the characters. He is the ruler of Britain and is the most powerful in the societal hierarchy. Thus, he is capable of making all the decisions which his daughters must abide by. Now that he is aging, he decides to give his kingdom to his three daughters, Cordelia, Regan and Goneril. King Lear is shown to have an authoritative figure who is willing to give up his kingdom and power to his daughters out of what Shakespeare shows is from the “kindness” of Lear’s heart. Despite Lear’s offer to his daughters, he expects a price each of them have to pay in return for his power. He tells them “which of you shall we say doth love us most?” (Shakespeare, 1.1.53). In King Lear’s perspective, he is giving up his power to his daughters, so he feels as though he deserves a gift in return- specifically the gift of their expression of how much Cordelia, Regan and Goneril loves him. With their obedience, Lear grants them portions of his kingdom in return. With the advantage of power Lear has, he is able to make his daughters do anything he wants them to do as it was expected to obey those who are more powerful. Below King Lear in the societal hierarchy would be the Duke of Albany, the Duke of Cornwall and the Duke of France. While Lear divides up his kingdom, the Dukes wait until the daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia are given a dowry: “Our daughters’ several sowers, that future strife may be prevented now. The princes, France, and Burgundy”(Shakespeare, 1.1.44-45). The recurring theme of women as having less importance as men is shown through the process of suitors since the women are being clearly being objectified as dowries. The Duke of Albany and Cornwall do not have the intentions to marry for love, they want to marry to get a financial benefit out of Lear’s daughters. When Cordelia refuses to express her love, Lear decides to not grant her any of his power. The Duke of Cornwall tells the King “Royal King, give but that portion which yourself proposed and here I take Cordelia by the hand” (Shakespeare, 1.1.267-268). He states that only “if you give Cordelia some of your wealth and kingdom then I will marry her”. Shakespeare reminds one of the hierarchical stance during these times. Men married women to gain wealth and power from their dowries rather than for love. This shows that women are deemed less important in society as men did not care about the daughters but their benefits. When Cordelia was stripped away from her dowry, Burgundy saw no use in her and at the end did not want to take her hand in marriage. Once King Lear gives Regan and Goneril his kingdoms, they marry instantly, and what Regan and Goneril had obtained by their father had to be shared with other male figures; Albany and Cornwall. One can see that there is a very sexist viewpoint in the novel King Lear. Women are nothing more than an object to men. Women are deemed insignificant and need help from other male figures such as their father and husbands, as they are seemed incapable in society. In A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, the mother of Ginny, Rose and Caroline dies due to cancer and is absent for the majority of their lives. Resulting in Rose and Ginny take care of her younger sister Caroline and also had to take care of their mother when she was sick. Before their mother’s death Ginny explains to Jessie Clark her responsibilities during those difficult times: “Rose and I nursed her for two months… I missed two hours of school in the mornings. Rose missed two hours in the afternoon” (Smiley, 56). Despite the fact that Rose and Ginny had school, as females in a patriarchal system they were expected to stay home and take care of their mother. Without their father’s help, they had to care for their mother alone and had to prioritize their sexist female role of staying home and take care of others over their education. Jane Smiley portrays their father Larry similarly to King Lear. Larry was also a very authoritative figure who had much power due to his huge farmland and properties. On the contrary of the similarities between Lear and Larry, the main difference is the way Shakespeare and Jane  Smiley brought Lear and Larry to come about. Unlike King Lear who comes about to be a good powerful character in the story, Larry is a horrible person and father. He takes advantage of his daughters with his powers. “My father, though, simply declared that Rose and I were old enough to care for our sister, and that was that (Smiley, 66). At a very young age, Larry gave Rose and Ginny are a lot of responsibilities that he should of helped them with but chose not to, from not only cleaning and managing the household but to parenting their younger sister, Caroline. The female and male roles are clearly defined as Larry did not have any part in caring for Caroline despite him being her father, he left the duty of raising Caroline to Rose and Ginny as it was seen to be a less important duty compared to maintaining his farmland. Rose and Ginny’s childhood consisted of growing up to become a suitable housewife, Ginny and Rose as teenagers “were able to devote ourselves to the aspects of child raising that we knew best-sewing dresses and doll clothes, baking cookies…enforcing rules about keeping clean, eating properly, going to bed at a set time” (Smiley, 66) instead of being able to go and help out with their family’s farm. The women in A Thousand Acres are seen to only be useful of being “housewives” and are expected to do as they are told as in this patriarchal society, they are seen less capable than men. Inevitably Shakespeare and Smiley emphasizes power and privileges in a patriarchal society through the clearly defined gender roles with the authoritative Lear and Larry and their power over their daughters. The representation of Goneril and Regan in King Lear and, Ginny and Rose in A Thousand Acres showcases a direct parallel to the image that women can not handle having a high position in the patriarchy. In King Lear their father was depicted as a powerful man who gave up all his power to his daughters. Once Lear had given them half of his lands, they start to turn their backs on their father; from refusing to shelter him to stripping away the hundred men he had left to abandoning him in the thunderstorm. After visiting his daughters in their new kingdoms, Regan responds to her father “O, sir, you are old! Nature in you stands on the very verge of her confine. You should be ruled, and led…say you have wronged her” (Shakespeare, 2.4.160-166). Regan’s response to her father shows their betrayal as Regan supports her sister and tells her father that he is unreasonable due to his aging and Goneril’s action may be excused during the circumstances thus continues to say that instead, her father should apologize to Goneril. In addition, when together, Goneril and Regan demands Lear to give them half his men in order for him to stay with either one of them. Regan allows her father to have fifty of his men “I dare avouch it, sir. What fifty followers?”(Shakespeare, 2.4.267) however, Goneril is not satisfied saying “hear me my lord. What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five, to follow in a house twice so many” (Shakespeare, 2.4.294-296). Goneril is shown to have no remorse and refuses to allow their father any servants. Hurt and disgusted by his daughters’ behaviour, Lear angrily heads out to the storm. Shakespeare’s sinister portrayal of Goneril and Regan- in a male dominant perspective, does not share the reasoning behind the the daughters’ actions, he simply depicts them as unappreciative, wicked, and selfish daughters who betrayed their father who has not mistreated them in any way. Nevertheless, their betrayal emphasizes that women with authority are undeserving of having a high stance on the patriarchy. In contrast to Shakespeare, Smiley allows a feminine standpoint offering a more positive outlook on Rose and Ginny. In spite of the sinister image portrayed of Regan and Goneril in King Lear, Rose and Ginny are found to be respectable daughters who instead of taking advantage of their father, only offered their care and love for him. Ginny, the protagonist is seen to be submissive to the male figures in her life, her father Larry and her husband Ty. Ginny takes on the role of a motherly and loving character who not only takes care of her father and husband but also cares for her sisters Rose and Coraline. When Larry gets into a car crash due to drinking and driving instead of leaving him stranded due to his very careless and stupid chose, Ginny and Rose are by his side and care for him even more for him during his healing process. Ginny shows tough love to her father as she says “the police are probably going to revoke your license, but even if they don’t, I will…Rose or I will give you breakfast at the regular time from now on, and you can just go out and work afterwards” (Smiley, 159). It is evident that Ginny tolerates Larry’s insolent behaviour and ever since their mother’s death, both Ginny and Rose make him breakfast every morning and obeyed the demands made by their father. Rose sarcastically tells Ginny, “You’re such a good daughter, so slow to judge, it’s like stupidity” (Smiley, 162). Rose’s statement proves the type of person Ginny is- selfless and nurturing. As the novel goes on, readers come to learn that Ginny takes on the needs of others before her own, she does not see this as a burden but a sees it as a contribution to the survival of her family farm. In addition, Ginny is passive and does not want to make other people in her life upset, “I just want to get along, Daddy. I don’t want to fight” (Smiley, 189). Her fear to upset her father allows her to avoid attention and from withholding power in the family. Her father knew the love Regan Ginny have towards him and took advantage of them as teens where he sexually assault we both of them. Consequently, Ginny and Regan are attacked by their father but are too fearful to stand up for themselves and both tolerate their father’s behaviour. Larry was truly an evil towards his daughters, by getting away with sexually abusing his daughters it really shows the male supremacy in their rural society. For these reasons, Ginny and Rose are seen as weak and too submissive to the males in their lives and ultimately both novels show that women are undeserving of having and maintaining any power in their patriarchal society. In conclusion, through the use of characterization and the relationships between the families, Jane Smiley and William Shakespeare draw a parallel theme that despite the different time periods, the societies are run by a patriarchy which privileges men over women.  Even in the modernized version of King Lear, stereotypical gender roles are highlighted in both communities and both conclude that women are seen incapable of maintaining power in these patriarchal societies. In A Thousand Acres a female perspective was presented and this allows the daughters to be seen in a more positive light as their father Larry took advantage of them compared the evil depiction Goneril and Regan are seen in King Lear. The outcomes in Jane Smiley and Shakespeare envisions the concept of sexism and the oppression women have to endure.  

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