The Good Earth is the story of a humble Chinese farmer, Wang Lung. The story opens with Wang Lung’s hopeful and excited thoughts on the day of his wedding. He finally has enough money to buy a slave, O-Lan, for his wife. Although she has been a slave since the age of ten, O-Lan is smart, ambitious and hard-working.
The two work together on the land and begin their family. Their modest farm and family is off to a successful start. Just when things are going well, events step in that will change their lives.
A severe drought causes a famine on the entire countryside. Starvation begins to have an effect on the family. Wang Lung, O-Lan, their children and Wang Lung’s father begin the trek south to find food and work. Once in the southern city, Olan and the children beg on the streets while Wang Lung runs a rickshaw. The family’s existence is extremely meager, only one step ahead of starvation.
One day there is an uprising and the peasants in the city stampede through the houses of the rich. Wang Lung spares the life of a rich man in exchange for his gold. O-Lan manages to snatch a few jewels.
Back on their farm Wang Lung carefully uses his new gold to build back his land and to purchase more land. Gradually Wang Lung becomes the wealthiest farmer in the area. From this point on Wang Lung changes. He cares about what others think of him, he treats his wife poorly, moves a former prostitute into an adjoining house and is manipulated by his grown sons. The only thing that remains constant with Wang Lung is his love and respect for the land.
“Thus spring wore on again and again and vaguely and more vaguely. As these years passed he felt it coming. But still one thing remained to him and it was his love for the land. He had gone away from it and he had set up his house in a town and he was rich. But his roots were in his land.”
This classic tale brings up so many issues that effect humans no matter what culture they live in. There is the importance of family, the conflict between haves and have-nots, the treatment of women, and many moral and ethical issues.
I loved the story because of both the simplicity of the tale and the richness of the characters. In the paragraphs above I only mentioned a few characters but there are over a dozen in this tale. Of course I was the most angry at Wang Lung’s shabby treatment of O-Lan once he became infatuated with a prostitute. I wanted something evil to happen to him. I was equally disappointed in Wang Lung’s sons. As you can see, the characters got through to me.
The Good Earth won numerous awards for it’s author, Pearl Buck. It won the Pulitzer Prize for one. Mrs. Buck also went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. This book, published in 1931, is the first in a trilogy. The other two are Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935). What is your experience with The Good Earth? Did you read this in school? What did you think?