Tag-Archive for ◊ The Good Earth ◊

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• Friday, September 24th, 2021

Pearl S. Buck was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, U.S.A, in 1892 from southern Presbyterian missionary parents who migrated to China after their marriage. They returned to the U.S.A. for their daughter’s birth and travelled back to China after she was five months old. Buck was the fourth of seven children and one of the three who would survive to adulthood. In 1934 Buck returned permanently to the USA, where she died in 1973 in Danby, Vermont.

Buck was raised in Zhenjiang in eastern China; her mother educated her as well as a Chinese tutor. At fifteen, she went to a boarding school in Shanghai, followed two years later by Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia and graduated in 1914. Buck returned to China in 1915, met an agriculture economist, John Lossing Buck, and married him in 1917. They both moved to the poor rural province of Anhwei, where Buck collected all the material for her future novels about China, including “The Good Earth”. In 1935 she divorced John Lossing Buck and married Richard Walsh

The first of a trilogy published in 1931, The Good Earth, was a bestseller in the U.S.A, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, and has been translated into several languages. In 1938 Buck was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. She published over seventy books, including novels, collections of stories, a biography, an autobiography, poetry, drama, children’s literature and translations from Chinese. The Good Earth, considered a classic, was made into a Broadway play in 1932 and an American drama film in 1937.

The story of The Good Earth is a vivid portrayal of peasant life in rural China in the early twentieth century. It follows the fall and rise of the humble and illiterate farmer, Wang Lung, and his family. Wang Lung comes from a family of farmers and is so poor that he has no choice but to marry the ugly slave, O-lan, who will prove to be a good wife and a helpful, assiduous worker, farming the land by his side. Wang Lung loves his land and is devoted to it. He becomes a wealthy landlord, rewarded for his hard work, beliefs, ambition and devotion to the land he reveres and some luck that comes his way. It is a story of rags to riches.

Towards the end of his life, Wang Lung returns to live his remaining days in his original farmhouse, surrounded by the land which belonged to his forefathers’ before him. He discovers that the concubines, the vast mansion in the city and the deluding, hollow life he led due to the wealth he acquired, did not bring him the satisfaction, serenity and safety that his land procured but caused him to lose contact with it.

Upon his two eldest sons’ visit, he overhears with great dismay that his sons, raised in luxury, have no loyalty to the land like their father and ancestors had. They lack their strong beliefs, tenacity and arduous labour. Therefore, they consequently plan to sell the family land after their father’s death and share the money.

Wang Lung intervenes to remind them that their wealth is generated by the land they now want to sell. He says to his sons: “It is the end of a family when they begin to sell the land … Out of the land we came and into it we must go and if you will hold your land you can live – no one can rob you of land”. “And the old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered”, “If you sell the land, it is the end.”

The story of The Good Earth takes place during the civil war and ends before the creation of the People’s Republic of China. In 1911 a group of nationalists, led by Sun Yat-Sen, had taken over China which triggered a civil war that continued from 1946 to 1949. Then communists, called the Red Army, took control of China’s government. Moreover, in October 1949, communist leader, Mao Zedong, declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China.

The author illustrates a contrast between the comfortably and decadently prosperous people and the struggle of the poor to survive. Buck also emphasises the inequalities between men and women and their relationships, industrious labourers and parasites, the opium-smoking, the concubines, the foot biding, selling daughters as slaves out of destitution, female infanticide and the contrast between life in the city and the countryside; furthermore how wealth corrupts, corrupting Wang Lung for a while as well as his children.

The main character in The Good Earth is the land itself. The story is compelling in its empathic writing and by illustrating lively, evocative scenes and depicting Chinese culture, traditions and culinary celebration of different festivities in the nineteen twenties. The old-fashioned style of expressions and vocabulary does not alter the liking for the story nor the reading of it.

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