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The Good Earth

Essay by 24  •  April 22, 2011  •  1,099 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,124 Views

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The overriding theme of the novel, "The Good Earth", by Pearl S. Buck, is the nourishing power of the land. The book takes place during the early 1900s in China. The main character, Wang Lung who starts out as a poor farmer, has an intimate relationship with the earth because he produces his harvest through his own labor. Wang Lung and his wife O-lan have many children and together cultivate a bountiful and profitable harvest from their land. Wang Lung's relationship with the earth is exhibited through his religious devotion to the earth, he is unhappy when separated from it, and the restorative qualities that the land provides when Wang returns to it.

The harvest's beginning and end is compared to birth and death. As the seasons change, great families come and go, and fortunes rise and fall. Wang Lung's family, who works hard and loves the land, is entering its springtime, while the Hwang family, who is materialistic and extravagant, is entering its autumn, and nothing is unchangeable but the earth itself. The idea that all human life begins and ends in the unchanging earth is a central point in the novel. The book repeatedly insists that the land deserves respect and that those who do not show respect will eventually fall on hard times. As a poor farmer, Wang Lung has an intimate relationship with the earth: having no money for workers, he must personally plant and harvest his crops, and as a result, he spends a great deal of time in the fields, alone with nature. Wang's house is made of earthen bricks, great squares of earth dug from his own fields, and thatched with straw from his own wheat. Wang Lung would also provide for the earth after taking a bath, for example he says "'I will throw the water on the earth when I am finished and it is not all waste.'" (5) Wang's religion is based on worshipping the earth deity, for whom he burns incense. Since he is a farmer, Wang worships before two small earth gods in the field to bring good fortune to himself and his family. This offering indicates Wang Lung's recognition that the land is more powerful than he is. Because of this recognition, Wang Lung is frugal, hardworking, and modest.

The difficult months in the city strengthen Wang Lung's love of the land and of hard work. Wang Lung has been raised to believe that hard work and frugal living pay off in the end. He is not attracted to the idea of begging, he prefers the backbreaking labor of pulling a rickshaw around the city. When his sons begin to steal, he is more determined than ever to return to his land and earn an honest living. In an incident where Wang's sons steal meat Wang replies, "'We will eat meat that we can buy or beg, but not that which we steal. Beggars we may be but thieves we are not.'" (112) O-lan educates her children in the art of begging, even beating the children when they do not beg effectively. She realizes that if they are to eat and survive, they must learn to entice pedestrians to part with a few coins. Although Wang Lung initially knows little of the outside world, the outside world begins to impose itself on his mind as the seeds of social unrest and violent revolution begin to sprout all around him. The gap between the rich and the poor in the city is astonishing. The rich try to hold off rebellion by providing cheap rice gruel for the poor in public kitchens, but this is effective for only so long. Wang Lung becomes forced to compromise his own values during a raid on the rich man's house in the south; he becomes a thief, even though he beat his son for stealing. Just as O-lan's desperation partly explains her willingness to sell her

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