The emphasis in the first twelve chapters of The Good Earth is on the earth itself and on Wang Lung’s identification of himself with it. The next twelve chapters focus on Wang Lung’s three sons and their disaffections with one another and with their father, whose attachment to the land they do not share. The last ten chapters include the deaths of O-lan; Wang Lung’s father; his true friend, Ching, who had given from his own meager store a lifesaving handful of beans to Wang Lung during the famine; and Wang Lung’s uncle. These chapters elaborate on the corruption of character wrought by luxury and on the consequent divisions in the house of Wang. These themes correspond to the books of the Wang family trilogy that Pearl S. Buck fashioned, consisting of The Good Earth, Sons (1932), and A House Divided (1935), published together in 1935 as The House of Earth. The sequels continue the narrative of Wang Lung’s three sons and concentrate on the militaristic brigandage of the youngest, who comes to be known as Wang the Tiger.
The emphases of both The Good Earth and the completed trilogy constitute a view of the cycles of life, both terrestrial (fertility, fruition, and decay) and human (struggle, achievement, and decline). In its mythic quality, The Good Earth is richer than its sequels, which have more to do with enterprise and brigandage. Land in The Good Earth is, while not explicitly identified as female, the maternal sustenance of Wang Lung, who may be viewed as umbilically dependent on the earth. This relationship is reflected in the four women who nurture Wang Lung and satisfy his needs: O-lan, fully attuned to the earth and the mainstay of her husband, whose acquisition and retention of abundant land is made possible by her surrendering to him a horde of jewels of which she comes into fortuitous possession; Lotus, the concubine, who satisfies his lechery as he becomes wealthy from his land holdings; his “poor fool,” the daughter who makes it possible for him to experience human love; and Pear Blossom, the very young slave and his second concubine, who eases his passage from active life into senescence. When Wang Lung leaves his palatial house and returns by preference to the earthen...
(The entire section contains 591 words.)
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