Pearl Sydenstricker Buck referred to herself as “mentally bifocal” with respect to her American and Chinese ways of looking at things. The daughter of American missionaries in China, Buck came to know that country better than any other, for she spent her early formative years there, and during that extremely significant time many of her ideas, viewpoints, and philosophy developed. She attended schools both in China and in the United States and made several trips back and forth, some unwillingly, as when she and her parents were expelled from China during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.
As a girl in China, Buck began to write articles and short stories. There is no doubt that she had a gift for making the strange, unknown, and distant appear familiar. Until the time of her first published success, East Wind: West Wind (1930), very little had been written about the life of the simple Chinese, although China was of increasing interest to businessmen, diplomats, and missionaries. Nevertheless, the general public did not think of the Chinese as people with whom they could easily identify. Buck’s feeling for the fundamental truths of life transcended the preconceived notions of the reading public about China because she portrayed her characters as understandable human beings struggling for happiness and success.
The Good Earth was published in 1931 and became Buck’s most popular and widely read novel. It depicts a life cycle from a man’s early years until his death. Some Chinese felt that the portrayal of their people was inaccurate and incomplete, and many Chinese intellectuals objected to the choice of a peasant farmer as the subject of a novel, preferring that the Western world see the intellectual and philosophical Chinese, even though that group was a minority. Buck’s only answer to such criticism was that she wrote about what she knew best, and these were the people whom she had seen and come to know and love during her years in the interior of China.
The theme of The Good Earth is an uncomplicated one with universal appeal, and the author shows a man rising from poverty and relative insignificance to a position of importance and wealth. In some ways, the story is the proverbial Horatio Alger tale that so many Americans know and admire. The difference here, making it unique, is the setting. Wang Lung, the main character around whom the action in the novel revolves, is a poor man who knows very little apart from the fact that land is valuable, solid, and worth owning. Therefore, he spends his entire life trying to acquire as much land as he can to ensure both his...
(The entire section is 1075 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Good Earth Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!