This book report is written for Humanities III, and the instructor Mr. Stiles. It is on The Good Earth, written by Pearl S. Buck. It contains 368 pages, and was published by The John Day Company. This book is historical fiction, and it has won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1932. As it was the best-selling novel in the United States in both 1931 and 1932, it was an important factor in Buck’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. It is the first book in a trilogy that includes Sons and A House Divided.
I read this book for a literature class, but I really enjoyed it as it very well portrayed the life of an average peasant in China during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
The protagonist of The Good Earth, Wang Lung, begins the novel as a poor, simple farmer forced to marry a slave, and he ends the book as a wealthy person with enough money and power to own concubines.
In many ways the strongest and most memorable character in The Good Earth was O-lan. Her character shows the situation of women in traditional China and the sacrifices they had to make in order to be within the cultural expectations. Another important character is Wang Lung’s eldest son. Wang Lung’s oldest son is in many ways similar to Wang Lung himself. The primary difference is that Wang Lung was raised in poverty, and his son is raised in luxury. Wang Lung’s second son is crafty, enterprising, and miserly, Wang Lung’s second son is more responsible than the first son, but he also rejects his father’s traditional values as outdated. These are the main characters in The Good Earth.
Wang Lung’s eldest daughter is also in the story. Wang Lung often feels sorry for her, as you can see when he keeps calling her “poor fool”. Wang Lung’s father is also mentioned. He is just a typical traditional Chinese peasant, who follows all of the regular practices. Wang Lung’s uncle is a cunning scoundrel and thief. He is the younger brother of Wang Lung’s father. Because the uncle is a member of the older generation, Wang Lung must show him respect and give him support in difficult times, despite his horrible nature. The Uncles’ wife is a village gossip. Like her husband and son, she is lazy and manipulative. Lotus Flower is a concubine that Wang Lung takes. She is a beautiful, delicate prostitute with bound feet. She has a terrible temper. Ching is an important character in the book. He is Wang Lung’s neighbor in the village and, later, Wang Lung’s capable, faithful, valued servant.
Wang Lung is a poor farmer in China. During the time in which the novel takes place, Chinese society is showing signs of modernization while staying very connected to old traditions and customs. When Wang Lung reaches a proper age, his father approaches the powerful Hwang family to ask for a spare slave. The slave’s name is O-lan. She and Wang Lung are pleased with each other, although they don’t talk much. Together, Wang Lung and O-lan cultivate a bountiful harvest from their land. O-lan becomes pregnant, and Wang Lung is overjoyed when her first child is a son. Meanwhile, the powerful Hwang family lives in great splendor—the husband is obsessed with women, and the wife is an opium addict. Because of this, they fall on hard times, and Wang Lung is able to purchase a piece of their fertile rice land.
He enjoys another profitable harvest, and O-lan gives birth to another son. Since Wang Lung’s new wealth catches the attention of his greedy, lazy uncle, Wang Lung is forced to loan him money, knowing that it will be wasted. After O-lan gives birth to a daughter, a terrible famine settles on the land. In the midst of this crisis, O-lan gives birth to another daughter. She strangles the second girl because there is not enough food to feed the baby and the rest of the family. Wang Lung is forced to take his family to a southern city for the winter. There, O-lan and the children beg while Wang Lung earns money by transporting people in a rented rickshaw. They earn just enough money to eat. Wang Lung begins to despair of ever making enough money to return to his land. Eventually, a group of poor and desperate people ransacks a rich man’s home, and Wang Lung and O-lan join them. Wang Lung steals a sack of gold coins. With them, he moves the family back home and purchases a new ox.
O-lan stole some jewels during the looting. Wang Lung allows her to keep two small pearls, but he takes the rest and buys a lot of Old Master Hwang’s land. Then Wang Lung hires laborers to plant and harvest his land. He enjoys several years of profitable harvests and becomes a rich man. When a flood forces him to be idle, he begins to feel bored. He finds fault with O-lan’s appearance and cruelly criticizes her for having big feet. He becomes obsessed with Lotus, a beautiful, delicate prostitute with bound feet. Eventually, he purchases Lotus to be his concubine. When O-lan becomes terminally ill, Wang Lung regrets his cruel words and comes to appreciate everything his wife has done for him. Meanwhile, to lessen the demands of his uncle and his uncle’s wife, who have moved their family into his house and continued to exploit his wealth, he tricks them into becoming opium addicts. Eventually, Wang Lung rents the Hwangs’ house and moves into it with his family.
After O-lan’s death, Wang Lung’s sons begin to rebel against his father. They do not want to work as farmers and do not have his devotion to the earth. Furthermore, his first and second sons often argue over money, and their wives often fight. In his old age, Wang Lung takes a young slave, Pear Blossom, as a concubine. She promises to care for his retarded daughter after his death. In time, Wang Lung is surrounded by grandchildren, but he is also surrounded by family disagreements. By the end of the book, despite Wang’s instructions not to, his sons plan to sell the family land and divide the money among themselves.
My final thoughts on The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck is that the book very well portrays the life of an average peasant in China, while providing an interesting and exciting storyline. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested about this period in history.
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