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Discussion of the book "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck

Updated on April 28, 2009
Pearl S. Buck - Author
Pearl S. Buck - Author

 I picked up this book, hoping it would be a non-fiction book.  Although it did not turn out to be so, it was still an interesting read with a valuable lesson of a sort throughout its pages.

This book is based in pre-revolutionary China.  The main character is a farmer who grew up in a sort of relative poverty where he and his fathers before him were accustomed to hard work in the fields and to monitoring everything that ate and drank and every move they made to ensure their very survival.

These lived in a time where the consequence for laziness was not debt and welfare, but actual starvation. It was a common occurence for children to perish due to ill health or malnutrition.  Wang Lung, the main character in this novel was actually an only child due to the fact that his father had lost every other child he attempted to conceive and raise to death.

An entire lifetime passes along the pages of this book, from young manhood to old age and death.  The benefits of being extremely cautious and taking advantage of every resource fully, so that one must not be forced into accepting too little money for what one has to sell are clearly shown.  Through inching their way forward, Wang Lung's family was able to prosper during times when others who did not use their resources fully failed financially and even perished.

Through sacrifice and hard work and always keeping in frontal focus exactly what they were working for, Wang Lung and his wife rose to prosperity, even after times of begging on the streets of a big foreign city after a horrendous year where the mere lack of rain had driven many to eat their own young.  Only greedy robbers fared well during those times in Wang Lung's part of the country.

Wang Lung was a very simple creature, however.  In many ways it was this very simple mindedness that accounted for his success.  In other ways it was pure good luck, that of which he ceased to acknowledge fully because of his lack of intelligence displaying itself over the years.

During those times of arranged marriages, his good fortune was to be sold a wife who was a harder worker than he and much more emotionally strong and even more intelligent than he was, although she was forced to live within the contraints that society and what was proper placed her under.

She had suffered a hard life, being sold into slavery at a young age.  It was actually her good fortune that she was not born with good looks, for women were constantly raped in those days if not very well protected and especially were slave women considered to be at the disposal of any who looked upon them.  Her lack of general outward beauty granted her protection from these monsters who assigned no sense of humanity to the female gender.

But for her lack of outward beauty, O-lan suffered silently, the reproach others bestowed upon her.  As a wife she took better care of Wang Lung than he allowed himself to realize and although there were moments in the novel when he seemed to slightly appreciate her, in the end, he disrespected her and reproached her worse than all the rest had done.

Her work and her mind were largely responsible for Wang Lung's eventual prosperity.  Without O-lan, he never would have received the riches that he eventually received, for it was her bidding that ensured they receive that which he would never have imagined how to participate in.

Yet with wealth, Wang Lung found himself idle, and his malcontent sudden overwhelmed him.  All he had suffered and all he had worked so hard for just slipped from his comprehension as became idle.

Though in the beginning of the novel, it may have seemed as though he were a decent man, it is clear that his extreme self-absorbtion was to negate any decency there may have been within him. 

Not his wife or his children were of very much consequence such that he should even look upon them very many days of his life and in the end he wept for the only thing he had ever actually loved and cared for and had faith in.  This was his land.

Wang Lung was too much of a simpleton to comprehend that he had any kind of emotional responsibility to his family.  His wife who was responsible for his success, he robbed and pillaged, not even being humble enough to acknowledge that he was as ill-bred in his behaviors as the dog who ate the only one of his children who died.

This novel has many different lessons which are very skillfully woven through the pages of experiences displayed in this tale.  However, the biggest lesson that stands out is the danger of idle hands.  For every character in the book who was idle in any way, behaved in one or another manner of corrupt ways.  Some of the characters were always like this.  Some of the characters were decent members of society until they became idle and the morals which they did not have became incredibly obvious through their idleness and malcontent.

Excellent writing.  The story carries the reader through all the way from page 1 to the final page 357 and provides an experience that is hopefully, not quickly forgotten.  Ms. Buck does a very good job in this classic novel.  How she could write of all the pig-like men without vomiting every day while she put these words on the paper is something that I wonder.  But perhaps she did suffer the wretched feeling of exposure to such prejudice, most likely even in her own life, in addition to in the process of describing this tale for generations more to read and learn from and enjoy.

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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I actually have a copy of this book that belonged to my grandmother and I read it many years ago. But your synopsis brought it back to life in my memory. Thanks!

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