William Shakespeare's works can be hard to understand for many young readers of today. Jane Smiley puts Shakespeare's "King Lear" into a perspective that today's youth can better relate to, in "A Thousand Acres". The general plot of both stories revolves around the father dividing his assets among his three daughters. In "King Lear" the king is dividing his kingdom between Goneril, the eldest, Regan, the middle daughter, and Cordelia, the youngest. Jane Smiley introduces us to Larry Cook who is the father of an Iowa farming family. He is dividing his farm property among Ginny Cook Smith, his eldest daughter, Rose Cook Lewis, his second daughter, and Caroline Cook, his youngest daughter. In "King Lear" Goneril and Regan show their father love and affection, just as in "A Thousand Acres", where Ginny and Rose perform all the duties of a housewife since their mother's death. The problem begins with the youngest daughter in both stories. Caroline follows her dream of becoming a lawyer with the support from her older sisters, her father feels that she is ungrateful and disagreeable which in turn leads him to take her out of the will. Cordelia does not profess her love for her father as her two sisters have, which leads him to disinherit her.
When comparing the two main characters, many parallels are evident. Larry Cook is the modern King Lear. His farm is his kingdom. He is a leader of his community and has the respect of all his neighbors. He is choosing to retire and prepares to let his children take on his position. King Lear, on the other hand, is the King of Britain. He is a very respected and powerful king. He is dividing his kingdom and wealth among his daughters. It is through the suggestion of outside opinions that make the men in both stories feel they have made a mistake by giving up their land. In "King Lear" it is the Fool, and in "A Thousand Acres" it is the neighbor.