In this one book, Pearl S. Buck tackled the entire cycle of life: it's terrors, passions, failures, ambitions, rewards and dreams. The tale of a seemingly humble farmer and his growing family, the story unfolds like a flower and takes root in your heart. Published in 1931 on the heels of the American Great Depression and Chinese civil war, The Good Earth was a first glimpse, for many of its readers, of an entirely new world—the poignant inner life of China and its people.
Out with the Old, in with the New
The Good Earth opens on a scene of hope and anticipation: the marriage day of the two main characters, Wang Lung and O-lan. Their union, so different from Western traditions, immediately thrusts the reader into a Chinese custom that has stood the test of time. As the story progresses, many things change. New practices emerge that threaten to wash away the old. Wang Lung and O-lan are forced, by the nature of their ambitions and successes, to tackle a new and ever-uncertain landscape.
O-lan's actions seem traditional and restricted, yet her personal sacrifice and calculated contributions are undeniable. At times Wang Lung's choices seem prudent and considered, at others he is trapped by his own ambition, pride and inexperience. Yet throughout all of their struggles, one constant remains: the "good earth" that provides Wang Lung with harmony and spiritual rejuvenation.
More Than One Man's Struggles
Told in the tradition of Chinese literature, the pages of the novel run the gamut of universal themes: women's rights, the importance of family, class conflict, spiritual and moral trials, and the hardships of the modern world. The Good Earth also brings into focus a theme that stretches far beyond the boundaries of Chinese society: the importance of simplicity. The story itself is straightforward and the language uncomplicated. We come to know the characters through the consistency of their actions and the reserved nature of their conversation. We return to the rhythm created by hard work and hard-won choices, and it is their commitment to life that strikes us sadly beautiful. Above all, this is a novel that reminds its readers to fight for the things that matter most.
Making Literary History
The Good Earth broke symbolic literary ground. It became an instant bestseller in the United States, was translated into more than 30 languages and soon became an acclaimed Broadway play and motion picture. The novel won nearly every literary prize of its day—the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, the William Dean Howells Medal for Distinguished Fiction in 1935, and author Pearl S. Buck was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. It is a timeless achievement, explaining and honoring its subjects in a way that few works ever do.