The Good Earth
"I am comforted by life's stability, by earth's
unchangeableness. What has seemed new and
frightening assumes its place in the unfolding of knowledge.
It is good to know our universe. What is new is only new to us."
Hello and welcome to my literary page dedicated to The Good Earth,
a novel written by the Noble Prize-winning author Pearl Buck. Buck grew up in
China with missionary parents. Her simplistic style makes the novel easily
accessible and enjoyable for a wide range of people. In other words, you don't
have to be a graduate student in English to appreciate this novel.
This novel, despite the simple manner in which it was written, deals with some very complex themes, among them, feminism. The following is an excerpt from a research paper I wrote as an undergrad at Eastern Illinois University entitled "The Feminist in Pearl Buck and The Good Earth."
Upon first reading, The Good Earth appears to be a very anti-feminist
novel. Many of the female characters are either slaves or prostitutes, not even
remotely equal to the men in the novel. They all appear to be extremely
uneducated and rather accepting of the idea that men are in control. But is Wang
Lung, the main male character, really in control? A closer reading of the novel
reveals that, while many of the decisions are made by Wang, they are greatly
influenced by the female characters. In many ways, the women give direction to
Wang's life. Despite their lowly position in society, these women each have some
sort of power over Wang that makes him need them as much as, if not more than,
they need him. The absence of Wang's mother, who has the potential to be a very
strong influence on her son, forces him into the rather feminine position of
caring for his father. Placing Wang in this domestic setting is a manifestation
of Buck's idea of putting men in the house.
The most remarkable character, male or female, in the novel is O-lan. With her selfless ways and extensive knowledge, she is the humble heroine who makes all things possible for her family. Not only does she do an exceptional job of "woman's work," but she also does her share of man's work, helping Wang work the land. Throughout the novel, it is O-lan who makes and carries out the most difficult decisions, making her, rather than Wang, appear to be the head of the family. When the drought comes and the family is left without food, it is O-lan who convinces Wang that the ox must be killed for food or else they will all starve. In consenting, he says, "'Let it be killed then, but I cannot do it'" (The Good Earth 72). While O-lan is killing the ox, Wang is lying on his bed with a quilt wrapped around him like a child. Later, after O-lan gives birth to their fourth child, she kills the baby because she knows that, because of the drought, the child cannot possibly survive. She doesn't even consult Wang before she acts, probably because she knows that he has difficulty making tough decisions. Time and again, it is O-lan who takes charge. Her strength gains her Wang's respect.
Not only does Buck illustrate what women are capable of now, but she also hints at what opportunities await them if they insist on being men's equals in society. By today's standards, Buck's work would probably not be considered very feminist. This is only evidence of the progress women have made over the past thirty years, due in no small part to Buck. Through her work, she has helped to pave the way not only for Chinese women, but for all women everywhere. Written by an extraordinary author, feminist, and humanitarian, The Good Earth is indeed a feminist novel.
Buck. Pearl S. The Good Earth. New York: Washington Square Press, 1931.
Photo of Pearl Buck for this page was taken from www.nobel.se/laureates/literature-1938-1-bio.html.
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