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The Good Earth a Book Review

Updated on July 15, 2014

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

The fascination with The Good Earth began in my high school years, when the novel was required reading.

I loved reading of simpler times, adventure, the family dynamic and life's tragedies.

The book is the first in a trilogy, The Good Earth published in 1931, Sons in 1932 and A House Divided in 1935, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and in 1938 Pearl S. Buck won the Nobel Prize in Literature becoming the first American women to do so.

Of course my first reading of The Good Earth was by assignment, and in my youth, so I didn't capture the true heart of the book until I had lived, loved, lost and regained relationships, and faced painful trials causing me to contrast my life with that of the main characters in the novel.

MY PARAPHRASE of the first few paragraphs.

A bath meant a dipper of water heated in a bowl over a fire made with straw and twigs, unless it was your wedding day, then the bowl could be filled and the entire body washed. The same flame would heat water for the ailing father in the other room, and today it would have a few tea leaves, even though he would protest about the expense.

Pearl S. Buck wrote from the heart and from life's experiences, making a person grateful for each of life's genuine blessings including relationships with friends, family, community and God. The daughter of a missionary was raised in a non-traditional home at the turn of the 20th century. Her observations are thorough and assist the reader in comprehending the times. The reader finds himself stepping into the dirt floor cabin owned by the main character, actually discovering why anyone would sweep a dirt floor. The character descriptions take you into their hearts and homes and captivate you to, "the end."

My best recollections of the first chapter include the introduction of a single man on his wedding day realizing this is the last time he will have to light the fire to heat his own bath water, the last he'll have to care for his aging father, because tomorrow there will be a woman in the house. In addition to mending his tattered clothing, caring for his ailing father and preparing all their meals in a timely fashion, his wife gives birth during the harvest time and in short time returns to his side reaping the harvest they plowed and planted months before in the good earth. As life rolls on the tragic heartache of death and betrayal, their prosperity and industry, her housekeeping, the greater community and the events of the world around them is folded into this compelling story underlined by the simplicity of earth to earth, and dust to dust

Farm in China photo credit on Flickr

Pearl S. Buck, born June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia, died 1973, buried in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Image Credit

Love and Marriage


Arranged marriage.

Since the family was made up of an aging father and adult son, the wife/mother passed 6 years before, the poor farmers who had nothing to offer the bride of the younger, purchased a slave from the Great House in the city behind the wall.

Love after marriage?

I'd say yes, it happened. When the elder becomes a grandfather and the son becomes a father, the woman endears them, having already gained their approval by plowing in the fields, preparing meals and gathering manure along the road for fertilizer without being told. Yet she had a plan.

To return to the Great House and display her "success." To walk into the presence of the Ancient One with silk garments on her back, and a fine son dressed in fine clothes in her arms. A rite of passage of sorts. Arriving, we would call it.

Image Credit

Mending Socks

It is an ancient tradition. Not one that is done much these days, knitted socks do wear think around the heals and at the toes. Know how to mend socks was not a woman's job but the job of men and women, out of necessity.

In our "Good Earth" phase, during the 1970s we had a little farm. - Instead of an ox we had mules, a horse and a pony, chickens, rabbits and cattle for beef.

We had two sons when we bought property and began farming it with mules. It was hard work but we had a plan and it worked. We built a new house on the property, remodeled the barn, chicken coop, fencing, and couldn't find enough people to come and help us with harvest. We share-cropped our hay since we were unable to harvest it, but could throw bales of hay onto the wagons.

Going "back to the land," was in theory our survival plan when it seemed our world was crashing in around us. We plowed a field with mules and pull behind tools, to plant a 1/4 acre garden.

Reaped a fine harvest, canned and froze vegetables, and I learned the fine art of killing chickens, plucking feathers and "putting up" the meat.

In addition to the fields prepared for harvest and the animals placed in the freezer after butchering, we brought in the wood for the wood stove for winter and prepared for living off the grid, as it is now called. Dropping out of society is what we called it. I had a wringer washing machine, but our sump pump and well needed electricity, and I did acquire an electric dryer, although I hung out clothes to dry on a clothesline as much as possible trying to stay true to our unwritten code of simplicity.

In the photo our sons pose at the back of the house with a wagon of wood dropped, cut and loaded from our back 20 wooded acreage. No they didn't have to cut it or do much to haul it, they were a part of the process though, and worked as hard as their little bodies allowed, to keep up with the required chores. They loved the warmth of the wood stove after a hard day in the woods.

Their version of stories from "the farm days" are much different from ours, today.

The Good Earth should be a "must read" for teenagers. - Not just reading it, but also writing a review comparing the hardships of the characters to that of thei

I strongly feel teenagers today, at least in America, have no concept of the coping skills it took to survive in the time period of the book.

Realizing a torn garment would have to be repaired because the wages it would take to replace the item would mean sacrificing food, water, and lost days of work in the fields all eaten up by the time it took to travel to the city in order to purchase the item's replacement.

In modern society we struggle comprehending chores like storing food for harder times in a handwoven basket, picking bugs out of the stuffing of long underwear and re-sewing the fabric to provide warmth for another season, mending socks and making our own shoes, heating the water for tea with scraps of twigs and dried grass, and only having a few tea leaves for hot tea when its the only thing that clears up a serious cough.

When the fourth child comes along the story takes a tragic turn. I believe the main characters, although they had an arranged marriage, grew to love each other. I also see in the book that the trials of life shoved them into an immorality that they didn't see coming. Faithfulness to each other seemed a goal in the beginning - and probably gnawed away at them as poor decisions were made and unfaithfulness destroyed.

Photo Credit

The Good Earth on Amazon

Amazon carries Kindle, paperback and hardback copies of The Good Earth, also study guides, the movie version and the book on cd.

A few highlights throughout the book. - A book full of life's trials, victories and defeats.

I'll highlight some incidents in the book to spark interest.

  • WEDDING DAY. The book begins with a wedding day, a poor young farmer must provide not only for his father, but also, now for a wife. But most of his apprehension begins dissipating within days of bringing the slave woman into the home. The economy and his own financial situation dictated what type of woman he would marry, and his father was the one who paid the dowry and selected the bride.
  • WINNING RELATIONSHIP. Coming to terms with the task before him, and wondering in the back of his mind if this woman likes him, he realized this thought had never entered his mind before. Now he's hoping someone, a certain woman, liked him. All his thoughts had been, "Will I like her?"

    Now he will be a father, making his own father a grandfather. Will the land yield enough for a family of 2 that has just become 4?

  • SEASONS CHANGE. The seasons cycle, and lives of the family, neighbors and extended family all change as their families grow, rain and drought tease them making the unpredictable harvest a hardship unless they planned and stored. Births and even deaths come their way.
  • TROUBLED MIND. The wife, the mother of his children has a secret, a silent pain. How does a man who's never lived around another woman other than his own mother comprehend this wife's dark side?
  • SUCCESS BREWING. An opportunity - one of more land and future prosperity steps into the path of their little family.
  • CULTURE STUDY. The continued detailed description of the life and times of the turn of the century China unfolds as decisions are made and consequences are paid. In the defense of choices determining our future, reaping what we sow and being sure your sins will find you out, this book has the under-girding of biblical proportions. A glance at the 10 commandments would have served each party well, but they were in survival mode when they gloated in prosperity and ran in desperation.

The Good Earth

Love, marriage, birth, death, planting, harvest, pain and joy all woven as fibers of the good earth.

Have you read the book in the past?

Does this book review challenge you to read the book?

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    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 5 years ago

      In high school, when I read this book, I was amazed to learn what Pearl Buck had to teach.

    • Jo-Jackson profile image

      Jo-Jackson 5 years ago

      I've never read it but I just went online and reserved it at the library. It sounds like a book I would enjoy.

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 5 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      I've already read it... it is a great cautionary tale.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yes! It was.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @RinchenChodron: YAY! Mission acocomplished. Thanks.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @grannysage: Wow, so you can identify with the stories, that's awesome. I had an Aunt that was a missionary probably nearly the same age as Pearl S Buck, so I heard her stories, and was totally fascinated. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @TheBLU26: Appreciate the compliment. I enjoyed the re-read and the writing.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @sockii: YES! I was hoping to inspire some young people to read this, and some re-reads out of the deal. It just helps put today's trials in perspective, like when the dishwasher goes out, or there aren't bananas at the grocery. LOL!

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @BestRatedStuff: It's a great read, so the review came natural.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @texan203 lm: Thank you.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @bibliopola: Thank you, I wonder if it's still required reading?

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @junecampbell: Great author, great book. Thanks for the visit and comment.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @Pat Goltz: My goal when writing the review was to inspire people to read or re-read this book, I think I accomplished that! Thanks for stopping by.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 5 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I read the book in my younger days. Undoubtedly Pearl Buck is a great talent.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I would definitely love to follow in the footsteps of Pearl S Buck, what a fine lady she must have been, great author who wrote from the heart.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @justmelucy: Your Grandmother's wooden sock darner is a very special treasure. Be sure to label what it is for future generations - it has become a lost art! Thank you for taking the time to give some feedback.

    • justmelucy profile image

      justmelucy 5 years ago

      Fabulous Lens. I read the Good Earth years ago, 1974 or so. It was great then and I think I shall have to visit the library for a reread. Personal note: I have and cherish my grandmother's wooden sock darner.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love this book. It is one of the few that I think about the stories of the people. If I wrote a book, I would like to write one as memorable. Thanks.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 5 years ago

      Yes, I would like to read it. Pearl S Buck founded an organization that helps mixed heritage children who live in poverty. We were able to help several children this way. This makes anything she wrote special to me, and makes me want to read her books.

    • bibliopola profile image

      Işın Tuzcular 5 years ago from Istanbul

      I read this book when I was in high school and liked it very much. A very good review.

    • texan203 lm profile image

      texan203 lm 5 years ago

      I also read in school. great review

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 5 years ago

      I am intrigued, enjoyed your review.

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Excellent book review. You make me want to re-read this book (which I haven't since it was assigned reading in school for me as well.) I don't remember really liking it at the time, but I think it is important reading for today's teens to see what life was like for others and the sometimes "trivial" challenges we face in comparison to those of past times.

    • TheBLU26 profile image

      TheBLU26 5 years ago

      We also had to do this book in school so I have fond memories of it! An excellent book and review! Good luck!

    • profile image

      grannysage 5 years ago

      I too read it in high school and liked it very much. My own mother grew up in such an environment, spending winters snowed in on Isle Royale in Lake Superior with her fishing family. She never threw away anything, and I watched her darn socks, a talent I failed to learn. Very good review of a great novel.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 5 years ago

      Yes, it does. Thanks