The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is a rich and vivid portrait of a man and his family who live through times of both upheaval and security. In these chapters we see them weather adversity and upheaval and emerge stronger than before.
Summary: Wang Lung and his family leave their village and take a train to the city in the hopes of finding food so they won’t starve to death. However, once they arrive they discover that city life is a completely different world. Here, they need to figure out how to survive in this new environment with its own distinct form of struggle and toil. City life will also expose them to unrest and revolution, and they will encounter an event that will not only allow them to return home to the land that calls and comforts Wang Lung, but will prosper them and change their lives forever.
At the end of chapter 10, as Wang Lung and his family begin to make the journey South, he discovers that they will take a train to the city. Although Wang Lung had heard of these “firewagons” before, he never took the time to experience this new mode of transportation for himself. In fact, we read that “Then there was always distrust of that which one did not know and understand. It is not well for a man to know more than is necessary for his daily living.” (P 91). He seems to be ignorant to much of what was happening outside of his village and farm. In many respects this allowed him to live a simple and honest life, but in other ways, it limited his exposure to new ideas from which he could learn and grow.
Life on the streets:
Here Wang Lung finds even his most basic values and principles challenged. He witnesses how city life turns men into beggars and thieves in order to survive, but Wang Lung wants to work and to live an honest life. However, although he works tirelessly, he just can’t get ahead. More than once he thinks long and hard about selling his daughter in order to return home to his land. Thankfully Wang Lung has a tender heart for his children and doesn’t succumb to the temptation that would so easily return him to the land he longs for. On one hand, I really dislike Wang Lung for even thinking about selling her, but then I remember that at that time a father was well within his rights to do such an awful thing. The fact that he chose not to sell his child like he would sell an animal, for necessity, made me like him more. I wonder though, if that was the only way he could have returned home, would he have sold her? There is a harshness to life in the city and an almost primal sense of desperation as the people struggle to survive. Wang Lung, however, maintains his values and priorities knowing that one day he will return to his land. His values and simple ways isolate and guide him; they reflect his way of life. When others speak of what they would not do if they had money, Wang Lung talks about what he would do: buy land to work. Also when he hears revolutionary talk about the oppression of the rich, he only wants to know how the rich can make it rain so his harvest won’t be lost. He is ridiculed into silence by his comments and questions but he maintains an honest life. His desire to return to the land prevent him from getting caught up in revolutionary activity or zeal. However, when the walls of the rich fall, even Wang Lung finds himself caught up with the multitude who are rioting; he leaves the rich man’s palace with certain “spoils” which will secure him and his family indefinitely.
Then in the evening he stood in the doorway of his house and looked across the land, his own land, lying loose and fresh from the winter’s freezing, and ready for planting. It was full spring and in the shallow pool the frogs croaked drowsily. The bamboos at the corner of the house swayed slowly under a gentle night wind and through the twilight he could see dimly the fringe of trees at the border of the near field. They were peach trees, budded most delicately pink, and willow trees thrusting forth tender green leaves. And up from the quiescent, waiting land a faint mist rose, silver as moonlight, and clung about the tree trunks. (p. 140)
What a beautiful picture! No wonder he wants to return to his land so badly. His land and his life on the farm give him a sense of purpose and pride. Rather than merely surviving, he is living life with both hope and anticipation.
Wang Lung is about to begin the next chapter in his life as a rich man and we will see how this affects him and his relationships.
What do you think of Wang Lung and his family while they were living in the city? Tell me in the comments below.