- Make changes and have a choice, or changes will be made for you.
- Treat others as you would like to be treated.
- It’s socially irresponsible for a few to live like kings and queens, while the masses live in abject poverty.
- People deserve to be paid fairly. Nowadays, it’s important to find ways to distinguish from others with what you have to offer.
- Money cannot buy you love or respect.
To get the most from this SummaReview of Giant by Edna Ferber, after you have read the book review/summary, reflectively answer the following questions:
- What can you learn from the ideas in the SummaReview?
- What is one action that you can take as a result of reading this SummaReview?
- What are five takeaways from the SummaReview?
- What has made an impression on you while reading?
- Is there a framework that you can use in your life and work?
- How do the concepts in the SummaReview relate to what you already know?
- How can you combine key ideas from the profile to what you already know to create a new idea?
- Is Giant you’d like to read for yourself? Why? Why not?
Giant by Edna Ferber was made into a film of the same name (Giant (Two-Disc Special Edition)) and was the last film James Dean starred in before his death. The story spans 25 years and through the eyes of the main characters, Bick (Jordan) Benedict, and his wife Leslie. Ferber tells the story of what it was like to live in Texas just before the Great Depression in the United States and after World War II.
Although Giant was first published in 1952, it’s relevant today because it deals with issues that we’re still facing today – land ownership, greed, power, politics, business barons and tycoons, racism, classism and unequal distribution of wealth and other resources. According to World Centric, today, 17 percent of the world’s population consume 80 percent of the world’s resources. And the richest 2 percent of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth (World Institute for Development Economics Research at the UN University).
The story starts off in the 1950s in what was then present day Texas, goes back 25 years and closes in then present day Texas.
Bick Benedict, his wife Leslie, family, neighbors and many of his friends fly on his aircraft to an oil baron, Jett Rink’s party. Although Bick has no desire to be at the party, he believes that he has to attend because the who’s who will be there, and he perceives that people will have the wrong idea of why he hasn’t attended. Jett Rink is extremely wealthy, having struck oil on land that Bick deeded to him. Rink may be wealthy, but he isn’t a likeable, he is an alcoholic who takes pride in harming other people as well as animals.
Racism and classism are rampant in Texas at the time, and Bick’s daughter-in-law, Juana, who is a Mexican, is insulted at Rink’s hotel. The hotel employees refuse to service her because they do not service Mexicans. Jordy, her husband, and Benedict’s son takes offence and goes in search of Rink to confront him. Rink being the cruel person he is, strikes Jordy viciously almost killing him. Leslie Benedict grips her husband’s arm and says, “You see. It’s caught up with you, it’s caught up with us. It always does.” They think that Jordy is dead, but he responds, that he needs morphine. The pain is horrible but not serious. The story goes back 25 years to when Bick Benedict first meets Leslie Lynnton.
But as the story unfolds, you understand Rink’s rage toward Jordy, and his response would be the same toward any Benedict. Rink covets Leslie, and has coveted her since he met her 25 years ago. When he finally reveals his feelings to her, she spurns him. If a mean and unkind poor person becomes wealthy, the difference you’ll find is that the person is now mean and unkind and wealthy. Leslie knows that about Rink, and he cannot buy her love with his millions of dollars. He threatens to harm her family because he cannot have her. He buys her a lot of things that she does not ask for or even want, so she returns them. Nobody likes being spurned, especially a mean drunk. Rink had been drinking before he appears at his own party.
Bick Benedict, a Texan, travels to Virginia to buy a horse, My Mistake, from physician, Dr. Horace Lynnton, who received the horse as payment for services rendered. While Benedict is at Dr Lynnton’s residence, he meets his second daughter, Leslie. After a short time, Benedict courts, marries and takes her back to Texas with him. At the time, Texas was very different from the other 47 states (Alaska became the 49th US state on January 3, 1959, and Hawaii the 50th state on August 21, 1959), and was viewed by many as a separate country. In Texas, they do everything on a large scale.
Leslie has always been curious, and before leaving Virginia, she reads as much as she can on Texas. When she learns that Bick owns over 2 million acres of land, she is interested in learning how land is appropriated/distributed in Texas. She wants to know how one family comes to own over two million acres of land. On their train journey to Texas, Leslie asks Bick many questions about Texas because she has a thirst for knowledge.
When Leslie arrives in Texas, she realizes that she isn’t the woman of the house, Bick’s much older sister, Luz, holds that role and refuses to relinquish it. Leslie gets to finally experience Texas and sees the differences among the classes. When she wants to go for a walk, she is told that she cannot go for a walk because only Mexicans walk. The Mexicans live in squalor, while the Benedicts live in a mansion that is essentially a hotel – people coming in from out of town to conduct business and stay overnight or even for a few days. Oftentimes people in the household don’t even know who the house guests are.
Luz and Bick coddle Leslie who wants no part of that, she wants more responsibility, but her husband doesn’t want to step on his sister’s toes. At the time, Jett Rink works for Bick, and even then the young man is uncontrollable. Bick keeps Rink on staff because he is a genius, though a cruel one. Rink is mean spirited and treated other unkindly especially when drunk.
Benedict says this of Rink to Leslie, “Jett’s alright when he behaves himself. When he drinks he goes kind of crazy. I’ve fired him a dozen times but he always seems to turn up back at the ranch, one way or another. He’s kind of genius, Jett is….He’s a wizard — when he is sober. But drunk or sober he doesn’t belong on a ranch because you can’t trust him with animals….He’s naturally mean with them. He abuses them. Kicks horses. Hits them over the head….He’s got a grudge against the world….He’ll probably end up a billionaire—or in the electric chair….”
Less than a week in Texas, Luz is thrown off My Mistake and dies as a result of her injuries. The doctor might have been able to save her, but there isn’t a hospital close by. The family learns that Rink egged Luz on to ride My Mistake who isn’t quite broken in yet, and he also gives the horse some sort of drug to make the horse wilder. Benedict is angry and fires Rink. Benedict tries to get back the land that he deeded to the young man, but despite his meanness we know that Rink is smart and he has everything in writing so he is able to keep the land.
Benedict is stuck in his ways and wants to focus on cattle and remain a cattle baron. In his defense, he invests a lot of money in research and development to breed the best cattle. Leslie and Bick have two children, a boy and a girl, and you have a role reversal. The boy, Jordy, is not interested in becoming a cowboy and the girl, Luz is interested in the cattle business.
While the children are still quite small, Leslie takes them to Virginia to visit her family. Although, she loves her husband, she does not like what he represents, and she is having thoughts about not returning to Texas. Her father, Dr Lynnton, talks to her, and tells her that though Bick will not change, and she will not change, everything around them will change, and that forces change.
“It’s [the world] changing at a rate that takes my [Dr. Lynnton] breath away. Everything has speeded up like those engines they’ve invented these past few years. Faster and faster, nearer and nearer. Your Bick won’t change—nor you—but your children will take another big step. Enormous step, probably. Some call it a revolution but it’s evolution, really. Sometimes slow sometimes fast, horrible to be caught in it helpless…”
Over the years, Leslie still asks a lot of questions, and many times her husband is annoyed with her. He doesn’t change his outlook, neither does she. Although Leslie does not like the inequities around her, she doesn’t work hard at effecting change. Her father, Dr Lynnton, knows what he is talking about, because when Jordy grows up, he marries Juana, a Mexican, and tells his parents after the fact. It’s interesting though, that when Bick wants to force Jordy to be a cattleman like him, his son appeals to his mother for help. Leslie goes to Uncle Bawley, Bick’s uncle and asks him to pay for Jordy’s university education.
Leslie knows that Uncle Bawley will be sympathetic because he had told her many years ago that she should not stand in her children’s way and prevent them from being who they want to be. In his youth, Uncle Bawley wanted to be a musician, a pianist, and he got pressured into entering the family business.
As the times change in Texas, Bick refuses to enter the oil exploration business until he is forced to allow exploration on part of the land when the Benedict clan votes in favor, at a family meeting. Many members of the Benedict family wanted access to cash – they were tired of being land rich with no money.
Giant by Edna Ferber is a fascinating read, and gives us insights into what Texas was like nearly a three-quarter century ago. In the story, you see cattle barons using their power to change the minds of politicians. Texas and the world has come far, but not as far as we would like. There wouldn’t be any need for movements like Occupy Wall Street if things were more equitable today. According to Martin Luther King, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.
Book links are affiliate links.