Now we delve into yet another time and place with the beautiful, wistful words of The Good Earth. I told you it would be easy...isn't it? Reading Pearl Buck's writing feels like reading poetry to me. I just love the quiet rhythm of the words. They evoke the simple beauty of the characters and the harsh mystery of China's ancient culture.
"Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only the perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods." (p. 29–30)
There is a connection to something larger—to the earth, to history and heritage—that forms a powerful force throughout the novel. Despite cruel gods, bad omens, greedy relatives, marauding neighbors, corrupt landowners...despite starvation and deprivation—Wang Lung and O-lan cling to their humble strength and profound attachments to larger unspoken elements of life. It is this attachment that gets them through.
Pearl Buck's China is a severe culture where women, even beloved wives and daughters, are called slaves and considered bad luck. But even the women who seem to silently accept their position in society have their moments of quiet defiance. It is O-lan's strength, determination and resourcefulness that sustain the family, not Wang Lung's silver.
When Wang Lung struggles with indecision and becomes disheartened, O-lan is stoic and prepared to make any sacrifice—even to take her own newborn daughter's life. "He was about to say, 'But I heard it crying—alive—' and then he looked at the woman's face. ... After all, during these months he had had only his own body to drag about. What agony of starvation this woman had endured, with the starved creature gnawing at her from within, desperate for its own life!" (p. 82)