When it was published, Edna Ferber’s Giant angered many Texans, who considered its representation of the excessive lifestyle and boundless wealth of the cattle and oil barons to be false and inaccurate. Many also believed Ferber unfairly characterized racists. Another cause of anger among readers was the depiction of the manipulation of Mexican votes during elections. As a result, Ferber received hundreds of letters criticizing the novel. Some letters were just angry; others were vicious and suggested that she be shot or lynched.
Ferber had been no stranger to controversy, or discrimination. The daughter of a Jewish shopkeeper, she remembered being subjected to anti-Semitism. Her novels, particularly Cimarron (1930) and, to a lesser degree, Showboat (1926), include the theme of racial prejudice. In Giant she exposes the racial prejudice against Mexican Americans in Texas. Before writing the novel, Ferber had read extensively on the state’s history. Carey McWilliams’s study of Mexican Americans, North from Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the U.S. (1949), helped Ferber link Texas greed with the exploitation of Mexican Americans. Ferber also visited Texas. As she notes in an interview with The New York Times, published in 1952, she “drove over Texas, flew over it, visited ranches, talked to people.” The novel includes descriptions of Texas “bigness,” its varying landscapes, its cattle ranching, and its tradition of social gatherings. In addition, Ferber takes an almost comic look at how those persons unaccustomed to great wealth spend their money.
The plot is a page-turner, but its strength is in its characters and its theme of racism. Although the novel features three generations of the Benedict family, the focus is on Leslie Lynnton Benedict,...
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