The Good Earth Theme Essay Sample

The Good Earth

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The Good Earth

I was in a complete daze after reading Pearl S. Buck’s remarkable novel, The Good Earth. It was somewhat hard not to stop what I was doing afterwards and try to put myself in the characters’ shoes and visualize everything that happened in the book. I was so taken by the plot that I remember not wanting to put down the book till I knew what happened next in one of the conflicts in the story. Considering my reaction to it when I first got the book and my reaction to it now, you would really think it’s ironic. First of all I wasn’t quite happy when I found out about the reading we had to do and obviously not looking forward to reading having to squeeze it in my hectic after school schedule. I remember when I was at the bookstore and saw how thick of a book it was I thought to myself, “Great...here’s another long boring book.” But after reading it I eventually proved myself wrong and found out it was well worth reading it all the way through the last page. Pearl S. Buck did an outstanding job on the book’s vivid description of the characters, emphasizing the importance of Wang Lung’s land, and its sense of dramatic reality.

The way the characters are described in the book you can really picture in your mind who they are. It’s very important to be able to visualize them because it helps you get to know them better as characters and have a better understanding of the book. One vivid description is O-lan’s, Wang Lung’s wife. “Wang Lung turned to the woman and looked at her for the first time. She had a square, honest face, a short, broad nose with large black nostrils, and her mouth was wide as a gash in her face. Her eyes were small and of a dull black color, and were filled with some sadness that was not clearly expressed. It was a face that seemed habitually silent and unspeaking, as though it could not speak if it would.” (p.19) As I was reading this I got the impression that O-lan would be a faithful wife to Wang Lung and it turned out I was right. The fact that she wasn’t beautiful didn’t matter at all. She served her family well. Another meaningful description is Lotus’, Wang Lung’s first mistress, which has an irony to it if you compare it to O-lan’s.

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Good Earth         Pearl S. Buck         Faithful Wife         Wang Lung         Sadness         Schedule         Broad        




“If one had told him there were small hands like these he would not have believed it, hands so small and bones so fine and fingers so pointed with long nails stained the color of lotus buds, deep and rosy. And if one had told him that there could be feet like these, little feet thrust into pink satin shoes no longer than a man’s middle finger, and swinging childishly over the bed’s edge--if anyone had told him he would not have believed it.” (p.181) This shows how delicate Lotus is physically
and you would probably think she is decent and kind, but later on in the book you would find out that her physical description doesn’t fit her personality at all. She is manipulative and greedy. She also complains all the time. Comparing her to O-lan shows you that it’s not beauty that counts but it’s what on the inside that matters to be able to know a good person.

The importance of Wang lung’s land somewhat intrigued me. It’s hard to imagine such love a man like Wang Lung has for his land. But this same land was the one that fed them and made them rich. “And his wife, who had been a slave in the kitchens of that proud family, would be wife to a man who owned a piece of land that for generations had made the House of Hwang great.” (p.53) This is an important turning point in Wang Lung’s life because he finally came with a goal which helped him strive for a better future for him and his family. “And again the slow smile spread over her face, the smile that never lightened the dullness of her narrow black eyes, and after a long time she said, “Last year this time I was slave in that house.”” (p.53) I was happy for O-lan at that moment because I knew that her life would get a little better once things worked out with the land they would buy. The land foreshadows their good fortune which was not hard to
predict. Another moment that shows Wang Lung’s love for his land is when they were starving and he still wouldn’t sell the land. “They cannot take the land from me. The labor of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I had bought with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.” (p.75) This shows his wisdom and determination because he knows that the land would someday save them from this tragedy. Even at the end when Wang Lung was old and weak he wouldn’t let his sons sell the land. “No--no--we will never sell the land--It is the end of the 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.” (p.360) On this passage Wang Lung tries to tell his sons that the land is part of their family and it shows the strong family ties Wang Lung wants his family to have because he knows in his heart that the land is everything that will bind their family together.

The book’s sense of reality is another good part of the novel. It’s basically about poverty and how they coped with it. Wang Lung and his family were starving for a while. “If one had asked Wang Lung, “And how are you fed through the autumn?” he would have answered,”I do not know--a little food here and there.” (p.71) This particular passage from the book is somewhat touchy because we know that it really happens in real life and it made me wonder how I would ever survive if I were in that situation. “When he would have put the cobs away for fuel, his wife spoke out. “No--do not waste them in burning. I remember when I was a child in Shantung when the years like this came, even the cobs we ground and ate. It is better than grass.” (p.70-71) After reading this I realized how serious the situation was for them. I felt sorry and shocked at the same time. At one time they had to kill their ox just because they had nothing else to eat. They even ate grass and even that didn’t last long. I think the hardship brings the
“spice” to the novel because it makes us ponder about what they would do to get out of that situation.

If somebody asked me for an interesting book that wouldn’t bore them, I woud definitely recommed this one. I learned many things by reading it. It gave me a better understanding of Chinese life and the fascinating details kept me reading. This book made a lasting impression and I would never forget it.



Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Man’s Relationship to the Earth

The overarching theme of The Good Earth is the nourishing power of the land. Throughout the novel, a connection to the land is associated with moral piety, good sense, respect for nature, and a strong work ethic, while alienation from the land is associated with decadence and corruption. Buck’s novel situates this universal theme within the context of traditional Chinese culture. Wang Lung, a farmer, has an intimate relationship with the earth because he produces his harvest through his own labor. In contrast, the local Hwang family is estranged from the earth because their wealth and harvests are produced by hired labor. Buck suggests that Wang Lung’s reverence for nature is responsible for his inner goodness, as well as for his increasing material success, and that the decadent, wasteful ways of the wealthy are due to their estrangement from the land. Buck also suggests throughout the book that while human success is transitory, the earth endures forever. These ideas about the earth give the novel its title.

Wealth as a Destroyer of Traditional Values

The basic narrative form of The Good Earth has an upward trajectory: as Wang Lung’s fortunes rise, he becomes more decadent and more similar to the amoral Hwang family, whose fall parallels his own rise. It is the wealth of the Hwangs that enables them to loosen their ties to the land, hire laborers and spend their own days in idleness and leisure. In this climate, vice takes root and thrives, as the Old Master becomes obsessed with debauchery and the Old Mistress becomes addicted to opium. As Wang Lung becomes wealthier, he too is able to hire laborers, and he becomes obsessed with women such as Lotus. He begins to fund his uncle’s opium addiction, and at last he buys the house of the Hwangs and moves into it. As Wang Lung’s children grow older, it becomes clear that being raised in the lap of luxury has severely eroded their own sense of duty to their father, their respect for the land, and the religious observances on which Wang Lung and his father base their lives.

In this way, Wang Lung’s life story is a case study of how traditional values erode under the influence of wealth. But Buck does not attribute this erosion solely to the corrupting influence of wealth, or at least not solely to the individual experience of wealth. The new ideals of Wang Lung’s sons demonstrate the changing nature of Chinese culture. Buck suggests that the modernization of China, itself a function of wealth, creates cultural conflicts.

The Oppression of Women in Chinese Culture

Primarily through the character of O-lan, Buck explores the position of women in traditional Chinese culture, focusing on the hardships and limitations faced by women, from abuse in childhood to servitude in adulthood. Although she was a lifelong feminist, Buck takes a cool, neutral tone toward the oppression of women in China, choosing to focus on individual experience rather than to make large-scale political or social claims. She presents in an unbiased manner the practices of foot-binding, female infanticide, and selling daughters as slaves, constantly drawing attention to the circumstances that would impel a woman to commit such actions without ever endorsing the actions themselves. She also suggests that husbands who take concubines and work their wives like slaves are not necessarily cruel men, but people behaving as their society mandates. Her criticism is directed less toward particular acts committed by individual characters than toward the larger cultural values that produce and allow those acts to occur.

Buck’s feminism is implicit in her portrayal of O-lan. Through O-lan, Buck emphasizes the crucial economic contributions women make to their families. She also uses O-lan to suggest that, ironically, the more women are able to help, the less men place sexual and romantic value on them.

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