Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Giant opens with a description of a party thrown by the Texan millionaire oilman Jett Rink, which is being attended by a host of other millionaires and their wives, most of them arriving by airplane and speaking in a folksy Texan dialect about inconsequential matters such as clothes.
At first it is difficult to tell which characters are meant to be central, but eventually the focus settles on Mrs. Jordan Benedict (the former Leslie Lynnton) and her regal-looking husband, who goes by the nickname Bick. Leslie makes critical remarks about Texas, saying that despite its size its views are not broad. As if to prove this, Ferber has a South American visitor barred from the party because he is mistaken for a Mexican.
At this point, using a favorite technique, Ferber sends the story twenty-five years into the past to describe how Leslie Lynnton of Virginia became the wife of millionaire rancher Bick Benedict. She describes Leslie’s family upbringing, including her gentle doctor father and her bossy mother and sisters.
The family dynamic is similar to that in Show Boat, with a domineering mother and a creative but somewhat weak father. However, the family here does not come alive the way Parthy and Captain Andy do in Show Boat, and in describing the scenes in Virginia, and elsewhere in the novel, Ferber becomes very self-conscious about her own narration, frequently saying that the incidents in the story are...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Texas is a vast, moneyed, and contradictory place. On this day, millionaires gather before attending a party to be hosted by the arrogant, nouveau riche, former ranch hand Jett Rink. At Reata Ranch, their giant kingdom of sorts, is the Benedict family—Jordan III, Leslie, their children Luz and Jordan IV, and Jordan’s Mexican wife, Juana—neither of whom is enthusiastic about attending Rink’s party. Jordan III, called Bick, is tall, blond, and dusty as he comes out from the corral.
Soon, the Benedicts and their guests adjourn to the ranch airfield to board Bick’s private plane for the four-hundred-mile trip to Rink’s party in Hermoso. Aboard the plane, talk is of oil leases and cattle, two basic components of Texas wealth. After arriving, everyone settles at the massive new hotel built by Rink, a place, as one person calls it, “almost majestically vulgar.” The hotel is segregated: Only whites can be guests.
One guest of the Benedicts, a South American ambassador, is being refused admittance to Rink’s party because hotel staff think he is Mexican. The Benedicts quickly intervene. Then, daughter-in-law Juana is turned away from the hotel beauty parlor because it “don’t take Mexicans.” At the party, an irate Jordy, Juana’s husband, attacks Rink, but he is restrained by Rink’s bodyguards and then beaten by them. Leslie, looking at Bick, says “It’s caught up with us. It always does.”
Twenty-five years earlier, Leslie and Bick first meet. Bick, in Virginia to buy a racehorse owned by Dr. Horace Lynnton, becomes intrigued by Leslie, the second of the doctor’s three adult daughters, who is unusual, both in her dark-haired looks and in her opinions. She is outspoken and interested in politics, sociology, medicine, and literature. Unlike the Texas girls Bick has known, Leslie does not chatter about unimportant things or focus her conversation on what might be interesting to a man. At dinner, Bick is again surprised, as the women, especially Leslie, lead the conversation. Later, Leslie, who has always loved to read, gathers a number of books about Texas and reads all night. The next morning, she shows her newfound knowledge of Texas by stating “We really stole Texas, didn’t we.” Such statements are typical of Leslie, and Bick is offended.
After a whirlwind courtship, Leslie and Bick are married and...
(The entire section is 969 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Ferber, Edna. A Peculiar Treasure. New York: Doubleday, 1939.
Gilbert, Julie Goldsmith. Ferber: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978.
Kenaga, Heidi. “Edna Ferber’s Cimarron, Cultural Authority, and 1920’s Western Historical Narratives.” In Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Writers of the 1920’s, edited by Lisa Botshon and Meredith Goldsmith. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003.
Lichtenstein, Diane. “American Jewish Women Themselves.” In Writing Their Nations: The Tradition of Nineteenth-Century American Jewish Women Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
Shaughnessy, Mary Rose. Women and Success in American Society in‘ the Works of Edna Ferber. New York: Gordon Press, 1977.
Uffen, Ellen Serlen. “Edna Ferber and the ’Theatricalization’ of American Mythology.” Midwestern Miscellany 8 (1980): 82-93.