Points to Ponder
Class difference is a key theme in the book. Does Wang Lung have a fuller appreciation of poor people when he is a rich man since he was initially poor? Why not? Is there a reason why Buck would portray Wang as having little sympathy for poor people when he is rich? When Wang and his family are living in the makeshift hut down south, what is the relationship between the poor people and the rich man just beyond the wall? Is Wang justified when he robs the man in the house during the riots and takes all his gold? Would you have taken the gold?
As one of the few white persons in China, Pearl S. Buck lived most of her life in the country as part of the minority. This unique perspective greatly influenced her commitment to race relations and appreciation of differences among human beings. In what ways (directly or indirectly) does Buck try to relay this cultural and class appreciation in The Good Earth? Consider how the (few) descriptions of foreigners in the book add to this viewpoint (particularly Wang's initial exposure to Christianity). Is O-lan's ultimate usage of the Christian flier (as shoe soles) symbolic? What are different ways of interpreting this scene? Also, consider how "new" the concept of climbing stairs is to Wang, when he first goes upstairs at the tea house? Is Buck trying to show how first encounters can be very frightening, confusing, or exciting? If you were a foreigner or had a foreign concept to introduce to someone, how might you approach these topics, considering how Wang reacted in the book?
Pearl Buck was a great champion of women's rights throughout her life. She is even compared to the ardent feminist Virginia Woolf for her devotion to the struggle for equality of the sexes. Compare the women in The Good Earth. There are many different types of women represented in the book, notably O-lan, Lotus, and Cuckoo. Moreover, the Chinese culture is notorious for the inferiority of women (girl infanticide, foot binding, etc.). How does Buck reconcile the social differences Chinese women faced in her tale with the ideal equality for which she advocated?
In what ways is the earth "good"? Consider how 1) the family eats the mix of earth and water when they are starving for its minor nutritious value; 2) O-lan repairs the holes in the house with mud after they return from the south. Is the land able to sustain the family through all their despair? Consider how Wang laments at the beginning of the tale that even if he had money, there would be no food to purchase. Which does Wang ultimately value more: his land or his money? What about his family?
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Chapter 2 and 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13