Your Guide to The Good Earth
Published in 1931, The Good Earth is still many readers' first glimpse at the inner life of China and its people. See how this deceptively simple tale unfolds like a flower and takes root in your heart.
Who Is Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker?
Born in West Virginia in the late 1800s and raised in China on American history, Bible verses and Confucian proverbs, she was the first American woman to win both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes.
Sum It Up!
If you're just beginning The Good Earth or have finished this novel, use our chapter summaries to uncover each part of Pearl S. Buck's beautiful masterpiece.
Start the Conversation
Use these reading questions for every part of the novel to get things rolling at your next book club meeting. When you're done discussing, take our quizzes to put your knowledge to the test!
Print Your Bookmark
Tackle this selection with Your Quick Guide to The Good Earth— we've got character descriptions at a glance on one convenient bookmark.
Journey with the Characters
In the small farming community where Wang Lung lives, every character's life is inexplicably connected. Find out why Wang Lung and O-lan's sons embody the hope and the future of the family and explore the good lives of women in Wang Lung's household.
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.