The Good Earth Essay, Research Paper
In the critically acclaimed novel The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck depicts a humble farmer and his obedient wife O-lan. The Nobel Prize winning classic, set in late eighteenth century China, begins with Wang Lung going to the “Great House of Hwang”(49) to collect the wife that was betrothed to him by his father. Wang Lung lived with his father, wife, and five children, one of whom is mentally retarded. Although Wang Lung supplied all the physical needs for his family and upheld all the family traditions, he showed a strong insensitivity through his extra marital affairs. The story continues to portray the trials and tribulations of their life in a time when a persons livelihood came from the earth. From the earth, Wang Lung receives wealth, food, and prosperity. The earth also brought him dispair through natural disasters, but the earth remained his sole source of innerpeace. Wang Lung was sometimes caring and sometimes insensitive, but he always followed tradition.
Wang Lung was a caring and compassionate man with a strong sense of family and adaptation to simple life. For example, Wang Lung showed extreme respect and appreciation for his wife in a time when women were considered to be no more then slaves. In the early chapters of the novel when Wang Lung was poor, he gave O-lan four silver pieces so she may return to the House of Hwang in grand style. He also offered to pay five thousand silver pieces for her recovery after he discovered she had a “fire in her vitals”(170). He then spent the rest of her days by her death bed and bought her the best quality coffin. Furthermore, Wang Lung had a special relationship with his first daughter,
Poor Fool, his mentally retarded offspring. Poor Fool did not speak and did nothing more
then twiddle a piece of cloth in the sun. Although Wang Lung had servants and slaves, he
personally took care of his daughter after O-lan died. He also yelled at his love Lotus when she called Poor Fool an idiot:
Now I will not hear my children cursed, no and not by anyone…For he was most angry of all that Lotus dared to curse this child of his and call her idiot, and a load of fresh pain for the girl fell upon his heart, so that for a day and two days he would not go near Lotus, but he played with the children and he went into the town and he bought a circle of barley candy for his poor fool and he comforted himself with her baby pleasure in the sweet sticky stuff.(212)
His affection for Poor Fool was genuine and he was comforted when she was happy; “Well, and that poor fool of mine brings me more comfort then all the others put together” (234). Another example of Wang Lung’s caring is the time and love he put into his land. When his life was in shambles and nothing else made sense, he found innerpeace, tranquillity and understanding about the events in his life when he was out tending to his land. When he had extra money, he did not want pearls, concubines, or rubies, “If I had the gold and the silver and the jewels, I would buy land with it, good land, and I would bring forth harvests from the land” (124). Wang Lung’s caring nature was the foundation for a stable family.
Although it was rarely displayed, Wang Lung’s heartlessness and sheer cruelty
deeply scarred the most beloved members in his family. For instance, Wang Lung’s
infatuation with Lotus temporarily blinds his true love for O-lan. Instead of the caring
husband O-lan grew to love he was mean and he assaulted her with insults about her lack of beauty and highlighted her extremely large features:
He saw for the first time that her hair was rough and brown and unoiled and that her face was flat and coarse-skinned, and her features too large altogether and without any sort of beauty or light. Her eyebrows were scattered and her hairs too few, and her lips too wide and her hands and feet were large and spreading…I would have my wife look less like a hind. And those feet of yours-.(169, 170)
This continuous battery of insults convinced O-lan that they lost the love they once shared. Furthermore, Wang Lung confiscated the two pearls O-lan saved from the south. O-lan wanted to have the pearls set in earrings to give their youngest daughter on her wedding day, but Wang Lung did not agree:
Why should that one wear pearls when her skin is as black as earth? Pearls are for fair women…Give them to me-I have need of them.(188)
Although he learned the pearls would be for his daughters wedding day, he decided to give them as gifts to his mistress. Moreover, he lashes his eldest son and his concubine with a bamboo stick. He saw them conversing by the pool and immediately assumed they were having an affair. He said to Lotus “So must you ever be a whore and go a-whoring around after my own sons!”(247). Wang Lung only saw them talking and lashed them both to tears. He sent his eldest son to the south for two years the next day. Wang Lung’s
seldom shone black heart hurt his loved ones the most.
Throughout the novel, Wang Lung continually demonstrates his strong family traditions through his behavior. For instance, he accepts the fact that the gods rule his life. Through tradition passed on by his grandfather, he worships the gods in a temple that was built for them with statues made of earth representing the earth god and his woman. Wang Lung had elegant robes made of red linen and gilt to please the gods, and burnt incense to satisfy their sense of smell. Wang Lung also made sure he cleaned the outside of their temple annually. He also hid his baby into his breast when he was having too much luck so an evil spirit could not enter him. Moreover, to celebrate the birth of his son, he bought fifty eggs and red paper to dye them with. Red is the good luck color of the Chinese. He also buys a little more then a pound of red sugar for his wife to pour into boiling water for her to drink. New Year he hung red paper over his door and around his houses in hopes that it would bring him good luck. Furthermore, he brings another woman into his house as a concubine and uses the rationalization that he is rich and that is tradition for all rich men to have several women in their homes for their pleasure. Wang Lung’s uncle’s wife helps him make his decision to bring buy his concubine so she may make the deal and receive the match-makers fee:
And why not indeed? So have all men who have prospered. It is only the poor man who must needs drink from one cup. (193)
Her kind and deceiving words finalized Wang Lung’s decision to bring in the concubine. Wang Lung upheld the strict family traditions that were passed onto him by his elders.
Wang Lung was usually caring, rarely insensitive, and followed his families tradition. I enjoyed the book for its attention to detail and for its description of the characters. I feel as though I got to know the characters because they were referred to by their personalities rather then names. I also felt that the book was a little drawn out and should of ended when O-lan died. The story was highly acclaimed and won both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for literature. I would recommend this book because it helped me to understand how my own family traditions were developed and cherished by my family today. Wang Lung’s life was masterfully portrayed by the talented author.