Synopsis of Ice Palace by Edna Ferber

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

Edna Ferber's 1958 novel ''Ice Palace'' is a pro-statehood commentary on the value of Alaska to the United States. At the time that Alaska became a state, most US citizens knew very little about the great northern wilderness.

Background Information

Novelist and playwright Edna Ferber made a total of five research trips to Alaska during the five-year process of writing her 1958 novel Ice Palace. The firsthand research that Ferber conducted helped her to depict Alaska's historical struggles and the state of the area in the middle of the 20th century.

The territory of Alaska was purchased from Russia for seven million dollars in 1867. The area was often labeled Seward's Folly because the chief proponent of the dubious purchase was then Secretary of State William H. Seward. When Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, most Americans knew very little about the far northern territory except that Eskimos (a term still in common use until the 1970s) lived there and that, sometime in the 1890s, gold was discovered in the territory.

Alaskan Natives

Ferber became interested in the struggle for statehood, and some of the main characters in Ice Palace echo the pro-state sentiments of real individuals like Ernest Gruening, then Senator-elect of the Alaska Statehood Delegation.

The Story

The setting for Ferber's novel is the contemporary Alaska of the 1950s, which she depicts as both a rugged wilderness and a source of valuable natural resources like fish, oil, metal, and timber.

Rugged Landscape of Alaska
Alaskan Landscape

Two fictionalized cities alternate as the setting: Baranof, based largely on Fairbanks, and Oogruk, based on Kotzebue in northwestern Alaska. There is also one scene concerning the consideration of statehood set in the United States Senate.

Teen-aged Christine Storm is the central character, and the plot revolves around the never-ending struggle between her two grandfathers for control of Christine's mind and future. One man, Czar Kennedy, represents those who would keep Alaska a territory and exploit its resources for their own gain. Christine's other grandfather, Thor Storm, represents the voice for statehood and respect for the beauty and heritage of Alaska. The differing opinions of Christine's two grandfathers are expressed in the novel through excerpts of the editorial pages of their daily newspapers.

The grandfathers also have differing views on where Christine should live. Should she move to the mainland of the US, Seattle, and be a part of the contemporary world that is not so secluded?

The Geographic Position of Alaska
position of Alaska

By marrying Bayard Husack, the charismatic son of a Northwest fisheries conglomerate, Christine will serve one grandfather's purpose of controlling the economy of the Alaska territory. Her other option is to follow her heart and be with part-Eskimo Ross, an airline pilot who is for the protection of Alaska in its natural state. Also included in the narrative is description of the territory as it existed in 1958, including the weather, animals, people, and lifestyle.

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