Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Florence Haxton Bullock

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 848 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Florence Haxton Bullock

Critical Review by Florence Haxton Bullock

SOURCE: "Edna Ferber Tells a Big-as-Life Story of Oil-and-Cattle Texas," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, September 28, 1952, p. 1.

In the following favorable review of Giant, Bullock examines Ferber's themes, characterizations, and portrayal of contemporary Texas life.

Edna Ferber does best with a big story: Chicago in its burgeoning youth, the rugged Southwest, life on the Mississippi in show boat days, New England in her period of decline—and now, in Giant, she gives us this big, reluctantly loving portrait of the fabulously rich outsize state of Texas, and the Texians (as Miss Ferber's quick ear hears them calling themselves). Caught up in this very satisfying personal story is all contemporary Texas, with some of its romantic past thrown in to show what lies back of the vigorous, generous, brassily arrogant present and the good and rather different future that Miss Ferber foresees on the way.

In the foreground of Giant is the great Riata Ranch, growing for a hundred years to its present three and a half million acres, improving its breed, building up a more than regal hereditary empire. (In the course of Giant it develops that a few of the big ranches are even now in process of being cut down to common-man size.) And alongside Riata in recent years, and much too close for comfort, are the rich new oil wells pouring their molten gold into the hands of new-rich millionaires. Free and reckless as birds of prey, these oil men think nothing of flying their elegantly equipped four-motored planes a thousand miles to glossy, roistering parties; while their wives and daughters solo forth in the morning in their one or two engined "little bitty" planes, their hair in curlers, to pick up a hamburger at Joe's or some needed condiment for lunch. Giant's story is wide enough, too, to include the lowly vaqueros, among them the descendants of old Spanish families or Mexican Americans, some of whom were herding their own cattle on the Texas plains long before the Yanquis came in to crowd them out. Now they sell a man's courage, endurance, skill for trivial wages and a squalid shanty to house their wives and children. Even the "wet backs" have their part in this inclusive yet always highly personal Texas story.

Giant begins on a recent March day when "the vast and brassy sky, always spangled with the silver glint of airplanes, roared and glittered with celestial traffic." Everybody who was anybody in the whole length and breadth of Texas was en route to Jett Rink's party at the Conquistador. The Jordan Benedicts of Riata Ranch were going reluctantly, and taking with them their usual miscellany of house guests, including the ex-King and Queen of Sergovia. Mrs. Benedict (Leslie)—one of the smartest, best bred women in Texas—was "dressed for the air journey—blue shantung and no hat." That the Benedicts should consent to come to his party was a major triumph for that flamboyantly new-rich Johnny-come-lately scoundrel Jett Rink. Jett had, not too long ago, been one of the Riata's ranch hands, and even then was impertinent enough boldly to admire the Riata's sacrosanct mistress. At the party a dramatic, physical clash takes place which sends the novel scurrying back into the Benedicts' past to find out what has led up to this public, brutal "kneeing" of young Jordan, scion of the great Riata ranch, by his mannerless mongrel host.

Upwards of twenty years ago Leslie came, a girl of spirit and ideas, from a highly civilized Virginia background, to the great family-owned Riata, and found herself a captive bride. Captive in the sense that she was compelled by custom and her husband's prejudices to live a closely restricted life. Leslie had never dreamed that women in her exalted position were actually second-class citizens in a man's world.

Leslie was disturbed by other inequalities, too—by the poverty of her husband's ranch hands, and by the inhumane social and economic barriers existing everywhere else in Texas between the Mexicans and Spanish-Americans and the arrogantly race-proud top-dog American Texians. When all her efforts to do a little something about it were thwarted. Leslie dutifully devoted herself to building a civilized life for her husband, and children, replacing the barracks-like Big House with a beautifully managed home. But she continued to oppose her husband's and everybody else's opinions in the areas where she thought they and all Texas were wrong. So that in the end—by the time the Giant story reaches the here and now once more—Leslie's independent-minded children, each in his or her own highly individual, very modern way, were ready to turn to and help build a new Texas upon the feudalism, the bigotry, the abundant riches of the past.

The "ideas" in Giant are all deeply imbedded in its fascinating story. Round-ups, barbecues, spectacular parties and lowly "wetbacks"—all the decors of contemporary Texas life, from costumes by Neiman-Marcus to current political wrestlings between the new industrial communities financed by oil vs the big ranches—play their lively part in this big-as-life, colorful portrait of changing Texas. Giant is a real Edna Ferber novel!

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This section contains 848 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Florence Haxton Bullock
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