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 melodramatic or out of a bad stage play.
Another problem with the story is that the characters spend most of their time talking instead of actually doing anything. Leslie is supposed to be a strong woman in the mode of Selina and Magnolia in Ferber’s earlier works, but whereas Selina runs a farm and Magnolia becomes an actress, Leslie pursues no career and is content to be Mrs. Jordan Benedict.
Also in contrast to the earlier novels, Leslie’s husband sticks by her, and the two frequently declare their love for each other. The result is to drain the tension from the book; almost all the conflict in the story is confined to verbal disagreements about issues not directly affecting the characters, notably the treatment of the Mexican minority in Texas.
The book ends with Jett Rink’s oil interests transforming the state, depressing Bick, who prefers the old ranching ways to the “stink” of oil. Bick becomes gloomy, saying his whole family has been a failure, but Leslie is upbeat and says she is sure they will be a success.
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...
(The entire section is 1,497 words.)