Truck Farming. Adventure. Cabbages. Beauty. Chicago. Hands. Success.
So Big by Edna Ferber is one of those books that gently touches the heart. It looks at the meaning of beauty and of success. Ferber shows us the life of Selina, whose grand adventure unexpectedly leads her to truck farming in Illinois in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. In one of the first chapters, Selina remarks that “Cabbages are beautiful,” a sentiment that sets the tone for much of the book. Later on, Ferber contrasts the life of Selina’s son, So Big (Dirk), with that of Selina’s protégée Roelf, who take very different paths in their adult lives. The novel won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a movie three times.
Briefly, Selina lives with her loving father, a philosophical man and a gambler. After he is killed, she takes a position as a teacher in a farming community. She plans this to be a launching point for a much bigger life. She lives with a farming family that includes a twelve year old boy, Roelf, who has “odd ideas.” His father thinks that he is too old to go to school. Selina nurtures his interest in books, beauty, and life. Soon, Selina falls in love with a loving but unadventurous farmer, Pervus, and they marry. Selina adapts to the hard farming life. In the early years, Selina continues to befriend Roelf. Pervus, who has always been “unlucky” at farming, ignores her suggestions on how to improve the farm. They have a son Dirk (So Big). When Pervus unexpectedly dies, Selina is left to support Dirk. With the financial help and moral support of a friend’s father, Selina creates a success farm. Despite always trying to do the best for Dirk, he turns into a man who has values that are very different from hers.
Selina is a strong female character. By the end of the novel I wanted to know her, even to be her. What I most admire is her sense of seeing the beauty in life. This is a gift.