Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Daughter of Earth differs from much of Smedley’s other work, not because it chronicles personal experience but because it does not focus on her experiences in the Chinese revolution, to which she ultimately devoted her life and writing. In many ways, the incidents in the life of Marie Rogers mirror those in the life of Smedley and probe deeply into the psychological structures which motivated her. An intense work of personal passage and liberation, Daughter of Earth is largely a cathartic exercise for Smedley, allowing her to exorcise the ghosts of her past and embrace more fully her commitment to the universal plight of workers, women, and all the oppressed.

That Daughter of Earth has endured and is available to contemporary readers is a benefit of the current interest in reprinting works which have been lost through political and social disfavor. Smedley’s absence from the canon of American literature dates from the McCarthy years. Branded as a dangerous “Red” for the time that she spent working in China during its revolution, she was harassed by government agents and shunned by the literary establishment, and her books were removed from public circulation.

The reprinting of Daughter of Earth and other of her works encourages Smedley’s reception into the American canon. Her portrait of the soul of America—the dreams and struggles of unempowered workers and women—is lovingly and respectfully executed and deeply moving for its refusal to accept the limits of adversity.