In The Good Earth, Wang declares, “Land is one’s flesh and blood.”  Wang Lung, the central character of the novel, feels a deep respect for the earth. His house is made of earth and even his gods before whom he places incense are also made of earth. Thus he gains his food, his shelter, and his religion from the earth. As Pearl Buck notes, everything comes out of the earth, but ultimately everything returns to the earth.   What is a discussion of this theme that draws support from the novel?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Good Earth, the cycles of the earth run concomitant to human life; thus, there is a spiritual and moral connection to the land for Wang Lung. Indeed, the earth is "one's flesh and blood." Working in the fields and thinking of his land cures Wang Lung from his spiritual malaise.  He is never happier than he has been in Chapter 4 after his son is born and his crops have produced enough that he can hide away some silver. Still believing that all that is good issues from the earth, Wang Lung buys land whenever he can. After he is able to buy from the house of Hwang, he is especially proud. With his own sons, Wang Lung feels that they, too, should work the earth

...where they would early take into their bones and their blood the feel of the soil under their feet, and the feel of the hoe hard in their hands.

From the earth Wang Lung derives his religion, his common sense, his frugality, his sense of duty and work ethic, and his love of family. When he lives with his family and has his farm, Wang Lung is a good man. In Chapter 6 as he overlooks his newly acquired land from the house of Hwang, he thinks,

"To those at the great house it means nothing, this handful of earth, but to me it means how much!"

As drought strikes them and Wang Lung is forced to sell some of his land, he worries. But, he will not sell it all,as some have done.

"I shall never sell the land!...Bit by bit I will dig up the fields and feed the earth itself to the children and when they die I will bury them in the land, and I and my wife and my old father...we will die on the land that has given us birth!"

During the famine, Wang Lung takes his family to the city where he works pulling a rickshaw and later hauling wagons. Always he yearns to return to the land:

...Wang Lung thought of his land and pondered this way and that, with the sickened heart of deferred hope, how he could get back to it.  He belonged, not to this scum which clung to the walls of a rich man's house....He belonged to the land and could not live with any fullness until he felt the land under his feet and followed a plow in the springtime and bore a scythe in his hand at harvest.

Even earlier, O-lan has even been willing to sell their daughter to bring her husband back to the land. But, he refuses. Then, as fortune would have it, one day after the revolution begins, Wang Lung encounters a wealthy man who gives him gold in his fear of being killed. "We go back to the land--tomorrow...." he whispers to himself.

When they do return, Wang Lung feels his life-blood surging within him:

Wang Lung set himself robustly to the soil and he begrudged even the hours he must spend in the house.... He loved rather to take his roll of bread and garlic to the field and stand there eating, planning,.... "Here shall I put the black-eyed peas...." And if he grew too weary in the day, he laid himself into a furrow and there with the good warmth of his own land against his flesh, he slept.

Having had a great harvest in Chapter 15, Wang Lung mutters as he feels the sun and rain against his own flesh,

"I must stick a little incense before those two in the small temple. After all, they have power over earth." 

But, desire for wealth and social prestige overtake him, and Wang Lung becomes corrupted. As "[E]verything seemed not so good to him as it was before," he returns to the land, telling his sons, "It is the end of family--when they begin to sell the land...if you will hold your land, you can live." 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial