The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck
Washington Square Press
Pearl S. Buck's epic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of a China that was -- now in a Contemporary Classics edition.
Though more than sixty years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. "I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," wrote Pearl Buck. In The Good Earth she presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century.
Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel -- beloved by millions of readers -- is a universal tale of the destiny of man.
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1. The novel begins with Wang Lung's expectation of rain, the daily boiling of water for his father, and his bathing for his wedding. What might this water imagery foreshadow?
2. Why does Wang Lung feel compelled to purchase the rice field from the House of Hwang? Why does he at first regret it?
3. "And so this parcel of land became to Wang Lung a sign and a symbol." What does the author mean by this?
4. Wang Lung considers the birth of his daughter to be a bad omen. How does he come to regard this girl, who grows up to become a fool?
5. As the family works and begs in the city, what do they think of the foreigners they encounter? What purpose does the author serve in including these descriptions?
6. The abundance of food in the city contrasts with the characters impoverished lives. Discuss the emotionally complex relationship Wang Lung develops with the city.
7. The poor laborers in the city lack knowledge even of what they look like, a fact illustrated by the man who mocks himself in a mirror. How does a new self-awareness come to manifest itself?
8. When Wang Lung becomes swept up with the mob and enters the rich man's house, is the gold he receives there a curse or a blessing? Do you feel any pity for the rich man? What do you think the author intended you to feel?
9. After O-lan steals the jewels, do they function as a bad omen or good luck? Why does O-lan want to keep the two pearls? Why is Wang Lung so astonished by this? What do the pearls signify?
10. As O-lan dies, she bemoans her lack of beauty and says she is too ugly to be loved. Wang Lung feels guilty, but still cannot love her as he did Lotus. Neither woman can control destiny. Lotus was an orphan who had been sold into prostitution because she was beautiful, and O-lan had been sold as a kitchen slave because she was plain. For whom do you feel sympathy? Why?
11. Toward the end of the novel we encounter the belief that things will change "when the poor become too poor and the rich are too rich." Discuss the ambivalence of this statement -- a mixture of both hope and despair -- and how it reflects upon the whole of The Good Earth.
12. Pearl Buck wrote a first-person novel from the point of view of a Chinese man, which was controversial because she was of a different culture. What are some of the challenges of this undertaking? How might this book have been different had it been written by a Chinese person? Compare Buck's novel to other books written by authors striving to transcend culture or gender (e.g.: Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone).
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"A comment upon the meaning and tragedy of life as it is lived in any age in any quarter of the globe."
The New York Times
"of the most important and revealing novels of our time."
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
"One need never have lived in China or know anything about the Chinese to understand it or respond to its appeal."