Literary Techniques

The author justifies her extreme detachment from her narrative by choosing for The Good Earth an epigraph from Proust about the musician Vinteuil's refusing to violate the integrity of his music by mixing his emotion with it. Similarly Buck refuses to interrupt her work to announce that she as author does not personally approve of what is happening. So devoid of subjectivity is her story that she sometimes takes her American audience by surprise when she describes events without passing judgment (e.g., when O-lan strangles her newborn daughter in a time of famine). Still what she achieves is a kind of exotic remoteness and this often adds just a trace of romanticism to her realism.

Buck's text is not marked with italics; she seldom uses a Chinese word or explains a Chinese concept. Exotic sounding translations do occur (as when the procuress tempts Wang Lung with "tiger bone wine and dawn wine and wine of fragrant rice") and occasionally she translates the significance of certain proper names. She does use proverbs (e.g., "The melon must always be split wide open before you can see the seeds").

Her vocabulary and syntax tend to be archaic (e.g., "lest he stink," "like a cur," and past tense verbs such as "digged" and "builded") and such archaisms are effective in suggesting the timelessness of Wang Lung's world. Generally, sentences are short and simple. Naive language is naturally used to match the simplicity of Wang Lung's thoughts,...

(The entire section is 482 words.)