The story follows the life of a young woman, Selina Peake De Jong, who decides to be a school teacher in farming country. During her stay on the Pool family farm, she encourages the young Roelf Pool to follow his interests, which include art. Upon his mother's death, Roelf runs away to France. Meanwhile, Selina marries a Dutch farmer named Pervus. They have a child together, Dirk, whom she nicknames "So Big," from the common question and answer "How big is baby? " "So-o-o-o big " (Ferber, 2). Pervus becomes ill and dies, and Selina is forced to take over working on the farm to give Dirk a future.
As Dirk gets older, he works as an architect but is more interested in making money than creating buildings and becomes a stock broker, much to his mother's disappointment. His love interest, Dallas O'Mara, an acclaimed artist, echoes this sentiment by trying to convince Dirk that there is more to life than money. Much later in life, Selina is visited by Roelf Pool, who has since become a famous sculptor. Dirk grows very distressed when, after visiting his mother's farm, he realizes that Dallas and Roelf love each other and he cannot compete with the artistically minded sculptor. In the end, Dirk comes to appreciate the wisdom of his mother, who always valued aesthetics and beauty even as she scraped out a living in a stern Dutch community. Ultimately, Dirk is left alone in his sumptuous apartment, saddened by his abandonment of artistic values.