Yes, I’m still here, but I’ve been on a blogging hiatus of sorts. However, during my time away I finished reading The Good Earth!
I didn’t go anywhere, but my reading definitely slowed down. I found myself distracted halfway through the book with a newly sparked interest in Asian religion. I went to the library twice to borrow a few books and I even went to a second hand bookstore and bought a book on Confucius! Maybe I will blog more about that another time, but for now, here are my concluding thoughts on The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.
***Warning: This post contains spoilers***
Wang Lung and his family leave the city and return home. He is able to buy land, much land, and becomes a wealthy man. During this time, a flood devastates the village, but Wang Lung and his family are well fed and provided for. However, during this time of idleness, he no longer has any monetary fears, he finds other interests and eventually another woman.
Sadly, his faithful wife O-lan dies and his second wife, Lotus, becomes his first wife. His children are married off, he becomes a grandfather and, in time, takes up residence in the former great house that once belonged to the House of Hwang. Wang Lung lives a long life, but in the end is heartbroken by the intentions his children have for the land that prospered them.
Now he is a rich man:
Wang Lung definitely returns to his village a changed man. The most obvious difference is that he is now a wealthy landowner. As such, he no longer works the land because he has hired men to work the fields. This is sad because he is loosing his vital connection to the land which not only grounded him, but gave him purpose and joy. Sadly, he will face some heartbreaking consequences for leaving the land later down the road with his children.
Wang the landowner now deals mostly in matters of management rather than laboring in the fields. However, he has a good mind for management and provides well for his family and even plans ahead for the next natural disaster. And when the village is flooded, Wang Lung and his family are able to wait it out without starving.
I don’t care much for Wang Lung in this second half of the book. I was really sad when Wang went to the teahouse and started a relationship with Lotus. How could he have done this and betrayed O-lan after everything they endured? When loss and hardship finally turned to abundance and ease, they should have been stronger than ever, but sadly the story took a different turn. Wang Lung was more concerned with what he had a ‘right’ to do; he looses much of the simplicity he once had. I liked simple Wang the farmer better than proud Wang the landowner/rich man because Wang the farmer’s simplicity kept him grounded.
Wang Lung remains overly concerned with how others see him even after becoming a rich man. And his eldest son is the same way. They both want to live up to the expectations of being a rich man and of a noble family. I don’t like the elder son in this book either; he is selfish and spoiled; he was given an education, but is he a thinking man? He seems to only think about what he wants with his father’s money.
There is also the loss of connection to the land. Wang Lung observed that the House of Hwang began to fall when they lost their connection to the land and the same is true for the House of Wang. His children don’t love and value the land the way he does; it is merely a means to an end: money. The eldest son is spoiled because he never had to work, he only benefitted from the profits. In essence, he became a rich young lord. I also think that they would have been a stronger family if they had stayed connected to their land. The irony is that Wang Lung worked hard to make a better life for his family but I’m not sure they were the better for it. Financially better off, yes, but as a family I’m not so sure.
Thoughts on the novel:
This is a great book! The story is engaging and I was drawn in to this world of old China; Pearl S. Buck is a wonderfully, descriptive storyteller. I feel like I have a better idea of what life in pre-revolutionary China was like. I would have liked to know the thoughts of some of the other characters in order to consider things from their point of view, especially the women. I wonder how that would have changed the story. My heart still goes out to O-lan and although I disliked Lotus I also felt sorry for her. After all, she was sold into that life at a very young age. There is so much to consider both historically and culturally when reading this novel; it is a world so different from our own, and yet all of this occurred in the very recent past.
This is a book that should be read and discussed in reading groups because there is so much to explore between the pages: Family relationships, societal relationships, gender roles, slavery, foot binding, wealth and poverty to name just a few.
What do you think? Have you read this novel? What did you think of it? Tell me in the comments below.