The Good Earth
"The story begins on the wedding day of farmer Wang Lung and follows his simple, often one-sided view of the Chinese culture, times, and his connection with the land. The land is a recurring theme throughout the novel, seemingly nurtured by the apparent protagonists, rejected and ruined by the antagonists. The author uses the House of Hwang, a nearby house of nobles, to contrast and predict their rise and fall. As the House of Hwang meets its slow and desperate end, Wang Lung rises. However, as the weather turns disastrous for farming, Wang Lung’s family has to flee to the city to scrape out a meager living. Upon returning home, the family fares better. Wang Lung eventually becomes a prosperous man, his rise contrasting with the downfall of the Hwang family, who lose their connection to the land. At the end of the novel, when Wang Lung is an old man, he overhears his sons plotting to sell some of the land, thus showing the end of the cycle of wealth and downfall." (text taken from Amazon)
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The Good Earth - Extra Credit Book Talk
As an AP World History teacher, this is an excellent read for any student looking for more insight into life in rural China during the 20th Century. Although fiction, this selection is a classic novel of pre-revolutionary China written by Pearl S. Buck. I offer this book as an extra credit opportunity for my Advanced Placement students. With exposure to China and its history, students are able to identify themes such as filial piety, patriarchy and the importance of agriculture/land. Students are asked to read all three parts of the book and then attend a book discussion that involves placing the characters such as Wang Lung and O-lan within the historical context behind the events that unfold in the book.
Review of The Good Earth
The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, Pocket Books, Later reprint edition, 1958, 260 pages, reviewed by Margaret Logan
Pearl Buck was born in West Virginia but spent most of the early part of her life in China with her missionary parents. The Good Earth was published in 1931 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1934, civil unrest in China forces Buck back to the United States.
The Good Earth tells the story of Wang Lung, a poor farmer. He takes pleasure in working his land and is ambitious. He wants to buy more land and have children to take over in his old age. He marries O-lan and they both work hard while they later become prosperous, the go through many hardships along the way.
Buck explores many themes in this book. One theme is how women of the time are treated. O-lan is kind, patient, hard-working, and supportive but her sacrifices are not appreciated until she is on her death bed. She is also despised and humiliated because she is not beautiful. Other ways women in the story are portrayed are as slaves, wives, and concubines. The only way women are able to achieve a comfortable financial position is by using sex.
Wang Lung seems at first to be very spiritual but as he begins to be prosperous, he gives less and less time and effort to his religious beliefs.
This book explores the idea of growing up in poverty versus growing up in relative comfort. Wang Lung can always return to the land for physical and emotional comfort but his children do not have that relationship with the land.
The Good Earth also explores the relationship of the wealthy and the power they have over the poor. Slaves and poor people have little value or worth as human beings. No help or assistance is given and they are allowed to starve or resort to cannibalism.
Many of the themes of The Good Earth has been criticized by many, particularly those of Chinese heritage, as being untrue or exaggerated but Buck lived in China and grew up with the people. She insisted that she was familiar with the lives of the peasants and common people.
I think the themes in this book are very relevant to today’s world, anywhere you go in the world. I think it is interesting that Buck returned to the United States she was active in various welfare organizations. She campaigned for women and minority rights and she set up an organization to help manage adoption of children born of mixed Asian and American parents. She was also active in trying to improve the lives of retarded children. She was active until her death in trying to help those who experience poverty and discrimination.
A MUST read
For anyone wanting to know more about "traditional" China in a past era this book is a must read. Although it is a fictional tale, Pearl Buck relies heavily upon her own experiences in China when writing the novel. The story is appealing to both educators and students. The reading level would best suit students in grades 10-12. After reading this novel I clearly related as to why it was so popular. Students with an interest in Asian culture will find this book utterly fascinating.