Ferber, Edna. Giant. Garden City, New York: International Collectors Library, 1952.
Reason read: Texas became a state in the month of March. Read in honor of that little event.
On the surface, Giant is twenty-five years in the life of a Texas family from 1925 to 1950. In reality, Giant is a social commentary on the wealthy. Ferber writes, “We know about champagne and caviar but we talk hog and hominy” (p 17). Ferber’s book was controversial because it revealed a stark truth about society in early twentieth century Texas. Take for example, Vashti Hake. As a daughter to a wealthy rancher, Vashti was shunned because she married a lowly cowhand, Pinky Snyth. There was class and there was Class.
The story opens with a group of wealthy and influential people coming together for the celebration of Jett Rink’s new airport. This is a bitter pill to swallow for cattle owner Jordan “Bick” Benedict. Bick sold Jett a seemingly worthless sliver of land on his sprawling Reata Ranch. The meager land just happened to sit on an untapped oil field. Suddenly, there is competition. Who is the richest? But, the competition runs much deeper. In order to understand these important characters and their significance the story needs to first take a detour. We go twenty five years in the past to explain how Leslie the society girl from Virginia ended up marrying ruggedly handsome Bick, moving to big ole Texas, and creating drama with Mr. Rink. Using the differences between Leslie and Bick Ferber does a good job laying out the different conflicts within Giant:
Geographically – the west versus the northeast. Texas being sprawling, dry and much hotter than lush and green Virginia.
Racially – the treatment of people of color. Virginia’s inclusion of African Americans while Mexicans in Texas are treated as invisible slaves.
Gender – a woman’s role in the household. For example, Leslie doesn’t understand why Bick wants his sister, Luz, to run the household while Leslie thinks, as woman of the house, she should assume the responsibility.
Economically – with the border of Mexico so close the socio-economic borders were bound to clash and blur.
As an aside, I really liked Leslie. She’s smart, funny, and adventurous. In all aspects she truly is a fish out of water but she perseveres.
Lines I needed to quote, “In the Texas the women talked a lot, they chattered on and on about little inconsequential things calculated to please but not strain the masculine mind” (p 73), and “You can’t judge a man by his hat” (p 85).
Author fact: Ferber wrote many, many other books including So Big (which won a Pulitzer in 1924), Show Boat (the 1926 musical), Cimarron (the 1929 movie), and Ice Palace in 1958. None of these titles are on my list. The only other Ferber I am reading is Saratoga Trunk.
Book trivia: Giant was made into a 1956 movie starring some pretty big names you might recognize: Rock Hudson, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor.
Nancy said: Pearl said Edna Ferber’s Texas is “an oldie-but-goodie” (p 233).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Texas: a Lone Star State of Mind” (p 233).