The story focuses around the life of a Chinese peasant, Wang Lung, who struggles to overcome a poverty-stricken life. One prominent aspect of this story is how women were depicted in society. Women, in the past, are considered as providers of support to their families. According to the history I learn at school, women depicted in The Good Earth are the authentic Chinese culture of that period (as slaves). As I compare the story with the book Tortilla Flat where women are also considered as decorations in life, I think Chinese village society is male domination.
In the beginning, Wang Lung gets married to O-Lan, the woman in this story. For Wang Lung, O-Lan goes through five pregnancies (one set of twins), giving birth to three sons and three daughters. She kills the second daughter. This story tells about the family’s survival (consists of Wang Lung, O-Lan, the five children, and Wang Lung’s father) through the famine.
At the onset of famine, O-lan as a wife is very loyal to her husband. Instead of condemning Wang for his inability to provide for his family, she stands by his side with great hope. I admire her strength and struggling without a single complain. Times are so harsh for the family that they need to beg to acquire food. Wang sternly stresses he is not a beggar, but O-lan keeps saying: “I and the children can beg and the old man also.” She cries to the villagers, “A heart, good sir- a heart, good lady! Have a kind heart- a good deed for your life in heaven! The small cash- the copper coin you throw away- feed a starving child!” She has now taken control of the family’s welfare, and even Wang Lung seeks her guidance. His first daughther was born in the famine and became mental because of being undernourished. Wang Lung refused to sell the ‘poor fool’ as she may be killed.
Here is one of my favorite quote:
“Now, evil, idle sons—sell the land! . . . 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. . . . If you sell the land, it is the end.”
Wang Lung pleads with his sons not to sell his land in the last chapter, and although they assure him they will not, they smile over his head, silently amused at their own deception. This quote is a final plea to honor man’s relationship with the land. He attempts with one last speech to make up for the damage his wealth and decadence have done to his sons’ perception of the earth’s importance. Wang Lung emphasizes again the earth’s permanence and its place of central importance in human affairs. But by this point the reader knows his sons will never listen, so that Wang’s final words, “If you sell the land, it is the end,” grimly and clearly predict the impending downfall of the family Wang’s hard work.
My favorite character in this story is Wang Lung’s third daughter, who has her feet bound by her mother to make her pretty. When this happens, she weeps without anyone noticing. I was very despaired when I read this part.
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (born in 1892) is known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu or 賽珍珠 . She was an American writer and novelist. Buck stayed in China before 1934. The Good Earth was the best selling fiction book in USA. It won Pulitzer Price in 1932. Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. Yeah! She went back to the United States in 1935, and becoming very famous for her effort on behalf of Asian and mixed race people (like me).