One of the greatest values of The Good Earth is its attempt to present for the reader a clear view of the Chinese culture—a culture that is vastly different from Western civilization. Pearl Buck captures this culture with complete objectivity,giving an accurate, journalistic account of the life of a Chinese farmer.
How does Pearl S. Buck give such an accurate, journalistic account?
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Since The Good Earth is the chronicle of the life of a simple farmer and his struggles for the universal desires of all men; namely, survival, success, and contentment, it lends itself in its simple telling dramatic effect, just like good journalism.
With objective style, Buck does select as part of her narrative those moments that capture the struggles and poignancy of human life. For instance, she opens the novel with the momentous occasion of Wang Lung's choosing a wife, and his celebration followed in Chapter 2 by the courageous birthing of her own child by O-lan.
Referring to herself as “mentally bifocal” in her point of view, Buck achieved objectivity as she wrote of a people she had grown to know and love during her residency in China. Her use of such techniques as symbolism is not overdrawn as she employs ones that prevailed for centuries and were inculcated within the Chinese culture. For instance, when Wang Lung goes to the house of Hwang and buys a slave for his wife,
He saw with an instant's disappointment that her feet were not bound.
Later, after Wang Lung acquires wealth, he is still repulsed by O-lan's "big feet" of a peasant, although she could never have worked in the fields with bound feet. And, in order to appear more affluent he has his queue cut off, the braid which he did not allow the barber to cut in Chapter 1, saying with respect for tradition that he would have to get permission from his father. Thus, with the use of these two symbols, while not straying from her journalistic reporting, Buck is able to convey significant meaning to her themes and characterization.
Other than the use of traditional symbolism, there is an absence of literary techniques such as flashback and overt foreshadowing and the like. For, The Good Earth, with its plain title, is a simple, direct narrative written in sequential order that is understandable. Her well-developed characters are real in their desires, struggles, and emotions, becoming alive on her pages. For example, even though O-lan is simple and the typically oppressed woman of traditional China, she is not a weak or flat character. During the famine, O'lan makes the decision on her own to kill the starved baby girl that she delivers, telling her husband quietly that the baby died and he must dispose of it. As Wang Lung wraps the newborn, he notices the bruises on her neck, but he says nothing to his wife although he attains a new admiration for her as she lies in the bed with her flesh
the color of ashes and her bones stuck up under the skin....
What agony of starvation this woman had endured, with the starved creature gnawing at her from within, desperate for its own life!
In another incident which lends O-lan more depth, O-lan, who knows the hiding places of the rich, steals jewels from the home of wealthy people who have fled the revolution, but does not tell her husband, an action that indicates she is not completely submissive to Wang Lung. When he discovers the jewels, she is ordered to give them to him, but begs to be allowed to keep two. Wang Lung awards her two pearls, which she cherishes. But, after his lusts begin to rule Wang Lung and he must have Lotus, he demands the pearls. O-lan asks to keep them, but Wang Lung hardens his heart. Afterwards,
O-lan returned to the beating of his clothes...as tears dropped slowly and heavily from her eyes she did not put up her hand to wipe them away....
Realistic, simple, poignant, The Good Earth mirrors life.
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