Your Guide to The Good Earth: Discussion Questions
1. Read the first few paragraphs, which discuss the morning of the Wang Lung's wedding day. What do you notice about the writing and the details provided?
2. Talk about your first impressions of the simple life of Wang Lung. Does it seem appealing to you? What specifics about Chinese traditions or culture do you learn early in the novel?
3. How would you describe Wang Lung's attitude towards his wife O-lan? As an arranged marriage, how did you expect their initial union to be?
4. What do you think about the fact that O-lan refuses to have anyone with her during her the birth of her first child? She continues working and rises the day after birth to prepare breakfast. What is your impression of this attitude?
5. Discuss the New Year preparations. What do you find particularly fascinating about them?
6. At the beginning of Chapter Six, it says, "This piece of land which Wang Lung now owned was a thing which greatly changed his life." Talk about how this metaphor for prosperity grows throughout the first 100 pages.
7. What do you think of some of the tangential characters—Wang Lung's father, Uncle, Old Mistress and Uncle's wife? Do you find it curious that none of them have names?
8. Poverty and starvation are depicted in stark terms. What are your feelings about the hardship Wang Lung's family—and province—endured in the middle of this section?
9. In Chapter Nine, Wang Lung cries recklessly, "Oh, you are too wicked, you Old Man in Heaven!" Talk about this in relation to other religious elements in the book so far. What does the Chinese attitude towards religion seem to be?
10. Talk about the family's sojourn away from their land and the injustice of Wang Lung's treatment by those in his society who have more.
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1. Talk about the transition the family makes from the country to the city. What do you find interesting about Wang Lung's impressions of city life? Why do you think it's so important to him to "get back to the land?" (p. 112)
2. What do you think of the dilemma O-lan initiates in suggesting they sell their daughter for a chance to go back to their home? Talk about Wang Lung's response to her and the Chinese traditions this illuminates.
3. Discuss the turmoil in the city, the "strange talk about" (p. 128) that implies that there is civil unrest. What do you think of the tumultuous life Wang Lung and his family lead?
4. O-lan steals the riches to put her family back onto their land and into a comfortable life. What do you think this says about her and her morals?
5. Talk about the family's change of fortunes. What does it force them to confront about their culture and themselves?
6. What do you find unique about Wang Lung's relationship with Ching?
7. What do you think of the passage on page 167, where Wang Lung finds his wife to be "a dull and common creature." Talk about his attitude towards her and her reaction.
8. What do you feel the waters, which recur several times through this section, represent?
9. Think about Wang Lung's fixation on Lotus. Why do you think his relationship with her is so important to him? How do you expect it will resolve?
10. The land always provides a solace for Wang Lung. Discuss at least three passages from the first half of the novel that talk about the land and what it means to the novel's main character.
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1. Talk about the way Wang Lung thinks about and treats his sons. How do you feel this shows either cultural or generational differences? Do you feel his sons deserve the treatment they get?
2. Wang Lung spends a lot of time justifying to himself the way he treats his wife. Talk about why you think he doesn't simply treat her with more fairness or kindness until she is on her deathbed.
3. Discuss the conversation between O-lan and Wang Lung on pages 239–240. How has their dynamic changed? How do you feel about O-lan suggesting her son should be sent away?
4. Why do you suppose the author chose to draw out O-lan's death when so many other actions in the novel are very swift? Discuss your final feelings about O-lan.
5. Wang Lung is described as "rich and powerful and a man of good heart," yet he begins to buy slaves in lieu of land. (p. 283) What do you think about this practice, especially in relation to what you know about Wang Lung's attachment to the land? Is your answer culturally biased?
6. Much of the latter part of the novel is taken up with death, marriage and procreation. Discuss what you have learned from this book about the Chinese culture in relation to these major life milestones.
7. Despite the many mistakes he has made in his lifetime, Wang Lung has wise words for his sons in his final days. How do you read the novel's ending, where the brothers seem to have other plans than their father's instructions?
8. In many ways, we are privy to Wang Lung's entire lifecycle in this novel. Talk about how different he is in old age as compared to when he first married O-lan.
9. Think about how the characters' relationship with money impacts the course of critical scenes. Who do you feel has the best relationship with money?
10. As you finish the book, make a list of the two characters you found most admirable and redeeming, and the two you found least so. Discuss how the author's moral message seems to play out in the natures of her characters and their struggles.
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