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LEAP

In Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth, straying from the land meant a decline in morality, humility, and eventually the downfall of great families.

With his youth spent working with the land, Wang Lung had grown acquired same work ethic, humility, and sense of morality that generations of farmers before him possessed. Wang Lung's humble roots created a barrier between him and the people of the town. His innocence toward their insatiable greed was taken as ignorance. What may be considered a virtue was therefore something of which he was ashamed. "Feeling inferior in some unaccountable way, as he always did, to these town dwellers, even though they were only barbers and the lowest of persons." (9). The men in the southern city spoke endlessly of what they would do with the kind of wealth that the rich on the other side of the wall possessed. They dreamt of the gambling, concubines, and extravagant food that they would take pleasure. "And above all, how none would ever work again, even as the rich man behind the wall never worked." (105). Wang Lung declared that he would put the money into land and the others laughed at his ignorance of what can be done with wealth.

Wang Lung's innocence was tainted with wealth and idleness, leading to the deteriation of those virtues he had developed from his relationship with the earth. Throughout his marriage to O-lan, Wang Lung was more generous and open with his wife than was common in their culture. On the day they met, he allowed her to carry the smaller load home and gave her peaches. "Take these and eat them for yourself." (18). When they returned from the South and Wang Lung descovered the treasure of jewels O-lan had taken from the wealthy house, he allowed her to keep to small pearls, which she explained she would keep with her and someday make them into earrings for their daughter's dowry. He discussed with her the purchase of land, an unusual act in their culture, and together they worked and accumulated wealth. Yet when Wang Lung began to act like a lord, his attitude toward O-lan changed. He began to visit the great tea shop, slept with the concubine Lotus, and made selfish purchases. He became short-tempered and critical with O-lan, scolding her for her unfavorable appearance and expecting her to wait on Lotus and her slave as well as his family. He had taken the pearls, a token of love, from O-lan and given them to Lotus, an act which he regretted when his wife died. In his mind he tried to justify the way he treated her, telling himself that he is a man and wealthy and therefore has the right to do as he pleases. "Wang Lung watched her as she went and he was mad that he was ashamed and he said to himself...'There are men worse than I.' And he said at last that O-lan must bear it." (177). To himself he again defends taking a slave, insisting he is a lord and may do so. "Am I not master in my own house and may I not take my own slave I bought with my silver?" (301). This mindset, that his wealth and power excused amoral behavior, allowed the events that brought down the House of Hwang to take place within his own.

Being the downfall of the House of Hwang and the wealthy house in the south, the selling of the land and extravagant lifestyle of Wang Lung's sons will likely lead to the decline of his house. Already the habits that had drained the wealth in the House of Hwang were present in the Lung family. Wang Lung heard near his death that his eldest son frequented the great tea house and had a second wife. His eldest son had great concern for appearing proper and wealthy, so he spent silver in great amounts on frivolous things. His second son was miserly and ambitious. Their wives, too, had a rivalry between them. Without unity, Wang Lung's sons and grandsons will not be able to withstand the temptations of the position of power they born into. Having spent the better part of their lives wealthy they never had the need to labor in the fields. They had no appreciation for the fickleness of fortune and wealth, nor the stability and goodness of the land. This ignorance was the downfall of the House of Hwang, and will undoubtably be the downfall of this one.

The irony of this portration was the way wealth seperated one with that which they needed to resist it's temptation; the integrity that the land brought. To his end, Wang Lung still had a great reverence for the earth and the virtues it represented. It was from the land he gained diligence, humbleness, and morality; and while those traits may have diminished in his personality as he gained wealth, his last days were spent enjoying the simplicity and nourishment of the good earth. With the pretentious assurances Wang Lung's sons gave him, Buck implied that they wouldn't follow his last bit of wisdom: "If you sell the land, it is the end." (313).

 

 

 

A. Section I: Chapters 1-10, pg. 1-78 B. Pearl Buck starts off her novel, The Good Earth, by introducing us to Wang Lung on the day he is to retreive a slave of the wealthy house of Hwang to be his bride. His reluctancy to do things we take for granted, like fill a tub full of water to bath himself, reveals that such things are luxeries in the chinese culture. Wang Lung is a humble farmer who works his little bit of earth from dawn to dusk, selling what he can and eating what is left. Having worked for the house of Hwang since she was ten, Wang Lung's new wife, O-lan, readily takes up household chores and helps him in the feild everyday without being asked. Together, their fortunes begin to rise, and with the birth of a healthy son and the purchase of new land their family's honor grows in the eyes of their neighbors. Although, as the crops of the region begin failing and a wave of famine hits the area, the people turn against the already starving Lung family. Not willing to sit and watch his elderly father, pregnant wife, and young children starve, Wang Lung and his family leave the house that has belonged to their family for ages to venture south. Finding they are not alone in this migration, they decide to spend the last bit of money they sold their land for and travel south by train. C. Character Analysis: O-lan represents the strong, selfless, and steadfast spirit of a chinese women. Quiet and disiplined, she performs her duties and more without complaint, as is the role of women in thier culture. "She had stopped in her labor to prepare them food! He said to himself that she was a woman such as is not commonly found." (31). Up to and after giving birth she would tend to the fields along with Wang Lung. She had earned respect from him, shown by the fact he shared such issues as money with her. When he was in desperation, breaking into tears at the thought of having to sell his precious land to save his family from starving, she handled the situation with trainquility. "There was some calmness in her voice which carried more strenth than all Wang Lung's anger..." (75). Even to the point where she was starving and with child, she followed Wang Lung faithfully in whatever task he took on. Wang Lung's aging father is a sagacious and fastiduous figure. In finding a wife for his son, he reasoned he would have a plain one. "Not a slave too young, and above all, not a pretty one." (7). When his son protested, thinking of the esteem having a pretty woman would win him with other men, his father further explained: "And what will we do with a pretty woman?... We are farmers." (7). He always had their humble state in mind, insisting they use as little water as possible and waste not a single tea leaf. When things got to their lowest point, he assured his sun: "There have been worse days- there have been worse days." (67). Themes:One major theme that's developed is the individual's role in their family and in society. Farmers in general are looked down upon, while the wealthy lords and ladies enjoy their opium and leisurely activity. The young lords take whatever concubine or pretty slave they wish, while the unattractive slaves are left to work in the kitchens. A generation honors, respects, and cares for the one before them. Women are expected to cook and clean and draw water, the duties of running a household, while a man works all day in the feilds and handles the money. When a female baby is born, it is referred to as a "slave" and is "not worth mentioning." (55). A fat, healthy baby boy is a sign of the best of fortunes.Another theme is poverty and the way it turned neighbors against eachother and drove the townspeople to eating human flesh. The slow drain of strength and life that comes with starvation sets a dark tone in the last part of this section. And yet, there's also the hope and the feeling that one has nothing to lose that allowed that multitude of frail and starving families to drag themselves forth in an attempt to survive.D. Reading the first section of this novel helped me realize how fortunate my life truly is. Even if there's nothing but top ramen or bread in my cupboard, there's always going to be more food to come. Going days or weeks starving, killing my animal, then resorting to tree bark, and ending up with only a handful of dry beans to feed a family is unimaginable. The little tasks I have to do day to day, like going to school or cleaning my room, are nothing compared to working to keep your family and you alive. They have no unemployment or social security to back them up, no food banks to go to. It's grow the food or starve; and as hard as they work the weather is always the determining factor. It really makes me feel for them, and at the same time I admire and respect their strength and courage.

A. Section II: Chapters 11-18, pg. 79-152 B. When Wang Lung and his family reach the south and make camp in a busy city, they discover that with the labor Wang Lung found and the begging the rest of the family undertakes they can afford as much white rice gruel they wish to eat at the kitchen for the poor. They soon come to realize, though, that they never have more than enough to buy their daily meal. Stuck in a city that is full of corruption, Wang Lung dreams of returning to his land. When his sons begin to steal, he becomes desperate and even begins to consider selling his pitiful but beloved baby girl in order to acquire the money to go back north. In a twist of fortune, the enemies in the new war come to the city, passing by the poor who have nothing to give them and causing the residents of the wealthy house to flee. The poor seize this chance to loot the palacial estate, and Wang Lung, standing back from the madness, runs into a wealthy man who gives him silver in exchange for his life. With this silver, and the fortune of jewels he later discovers O-lan had taken from the house, he returns home to a broken city. He buys the land of the once wealthy house of Hwang and hires workers to live on his land and help him tend it, leaving him with enough food to last the fruitless seasons and a the restlessness that comes with being idle.C. Themes: One theme that's developing is that working with the land, having a close relationship with the earth, brings a sort of virtue and humility and the difference in character and morality that wealth brings. The men in the southern city spend their evenings talking endlessly of what they would buy with money such as the wealthy who live just on the other side of the wall possess. "And above all, how none would ever work again, even as the rich man behind the wall never worked." (105). Wang Lung tells them that he would put the money into land, and the others laugh at his ignorance of what can be done with wealth. "And each one of them felt he was more worthy to have the riches than was Wang Lung, because they knew better how to spend it. (105). Discontent filled the hearts of all those he worked and lived amoung in that place, and they all talked of their oppression and of those who had more than one should possess. Yet Wang Lung only felt the need to return to his land, not to possess the rich man's wealth. "Although he saw this and he heard the talk and felt their anger with a strange unease, desired nothing but his land under his feet again." (109). When he returned to his earth, after witnessing the corruption of that city down south and what had now become of the House of Hwang, Wang Lung decided that his sons should develop a relationship with the earth as well. "And he resolved that on this very day he would make them cease playing in the sunshine and he would set them to tasks in the field, where they would early take into their bones and their blood the feel of soil under their feet, and the feel of the hoe hard in their hands." (134). Yet when he becomes wealthy enough and has no need to work, he becomes restless, he starts to spend his silver recklessly and becomes harsh toward O-lan. "Although in his heart he was ashamed that he reproached this creature who through all these years had followed him faithfully as a dog... yet he could not stem the irritation in his breast and he went on ruthlessly, although against his inner will." (146). Author's Writing Style: The way that Pearl Buck described the thought's of Wang Lung as he first encountered a foreigner made clear the way the seperation of an average Chinese farmer had from the rest of the world. "And on this day someone did come out on him suddenly, a creature the like of whom he had never seen before. He had no idea of whether it was male or female... But Wang Lung ran as fast as he could for fear of the strange creature behind him." (93). Even during the time this novel was written, Americans would likely have some idea of foreign lands through media, yet no where near as clear a view of the common Chinese man as in this novel. Such things as a woman's role in society, Chinese concepts of beauty, and a man's love for his land are shown throughout the story.D. I find myself wandering as Wang Lung becomes increasingly harsh on his wife, O-lan, what is she thinking or feeling? She hides her unbound feet as he scorns their size, meaning that she was probably ashamed of them. The way his restlessness turns him against his faithful wife is heartbreaking. "But she answered nothing, only looked at him humbly and without knowing what she did..." (146).

A. Section III: Chapters 19-26, pg. 153-235 B. With half his lands covered by the waters, yet still no cause to worry because there was plenty of food, Wang Lung continued in his idleness, becoming more and more like a lord. Nightly he would visit the tea house and lay with the tiny, beautiful girl named Lotus; but he was never satisfied. His uncle's wife saw what was on his mind, and set about buying Lotus and bringing her to the house. Lotus came with her slave Cuckoo, who had lived in the courts of the Old Lord in the House of Hwang while O-lan had worked in the kitchens. Apart from O-lan's resentment toward Cuckoo, Wang Lung's two women settled in their roles: O-lan, and mother of his sons and the one who cared for his family, and Lotus, who served as his entertainment and pleasure. Yet as little angers arose in him against Lotus his love for her slowly waned, leaving him with a troubled mind only eased when the waters receeded and he was allowed to return to working in his fields. More trouble arose, though, when his eldest son began behaving rebelliously, and after a while he sent the boy south to study in the city. When O-lan's illnesses catch up with her she wishes for her son to return so that she may see him wed, which she survives to see, and then passes away. Soon after, Wang's father dies too, and at the burial of his father and first wife Wang Lung realizes his old life has ended.C. Character Development: Wang Lung seems toward between the temptations of his new lifestyle and his concience. As Lotus begins to settle in and O-lan realizes that she is now the first wife and no longer the object of Wang Lung's love, she becomes more withdrawn then ever. She is no longer consulted in financial manners or concerning the land, as she had once been. "She had been afraid of him from that day on which he had seen clearly that she had no beauty of hair or of person, and when he had seen her feet were large, and she was afraid to ask him anything because of his anger that was always ready for her now." (161). Despite his guilt, he decides she must deal with this new way of life. He scorns her more readily, like when she would not boil water for Lotus and her servant, and prompts O-lan to defend herself on the few occasions they do speak, leaving Wang Lung reluctant to argue with her and instead lets her be. Still in his mind he tries to justify the way he treats her, telling himself that he is a man and wealthy and therefore has the right to do as he pleases. "Wang Lung watched her as she went and he was mad that he was ashamed and he said to himself...'There are men worse than I.' And he said at last that O-lan must bear it." (177). After her death, he regrets having taken from her the two pearls she kept between her breasts and cannot bear the thought of Lotus wearing them in her ears. Themes: The characteristics of lust are represented in this novel through Wang Lung's relationship with Lotus. Wang Lung had taken O-lan as his wife and had been satisfied after lying with her in the night, leaving him free to deal with his land each day; but there was no such satisfaction with Lotus. O-lan's feet were not bound and he could find no beautiful feature in her face, but she had been enough for him for many years. Yet when he meets the girl whose picture he has sat staring at thinking it portrays a goddess, he becomes infatuated. "Now Wang Lung became sick with a sickness which is greater than any man can have. He had suffered under labor in the sun and he had suffered under the dry icy winds... But under none of these did he suffer as he now did under this slight girl's hand." (157). Even when he bought her from the tea house and she came to live in his inner courts, her availiability to him didn't help satisfy him. "Yet never could he grasp herwholly, and this it was which kept him fevered and thirsty for her robustly... there was no such content now in his love for this girl, and there was so health in her for him." (157-158). His love for her being physical, Wang Lung begins to find faults in Lotus's personality that gradually diminish his love for her. He had alienated O-lan by taking another woman and because of his harshness toward her, so he didn't even have her to talk about all this to. "And so his love for Lotus was not whole and perfect as it had been before, absorbing his mind and his body. It was pierced through and through with small angers which were the more sharp because they must be endured." (180). By taking the pearls from her, Wang Lung displayed that his love for her was gone, and it seems that this love of Lotus, which could be better compared to lust, is unsatisfying and eventually diminishes. D. The way Wang Lung's feelings toward O-lan are described is very blunt and honest. Despite the fact she was at his side through his rise and fall, through the birth of his children and the famine, he is repulsed by her coarse hair and big feat and unattractive features. He has no love for her, and even though he feels ashamed of it at times, he cannot change it. His wife, after all, was one that was chosen for him, as it goes in their culture.

 

A. Section IV: Chapters 27-34, pg. 236-313 B. As Wang Lung aged, his only desire is to live out his days in peace, as impossible as that seems. With the waters rising higher than ever, Wang Lung found that despite his efforts to conserve food and silver, he couldn't deny his uncle's family's wishes for fear that his uncle's band of robbers would retaliate. Wang Lung's oldest son reasoned with him that a little opium for his uncle, his uncle's wife, and their impudent son would make them all harmless; but Wang Lung was reluctant to buy the expensive drug. His uncle was lustful and would watch the women of the house, and he harrassed Wang Lung's second daughter, who had grown very pretty. After sending the girl to the house of the boy she would soon marry, Wang Lung gave in and bought the opium. Although the old couple were no longer a problem, their son didn't take to the drug as well. So they left the three to live on the land while they rented the old house of Hwang. While their family grows in respect and in possesion, Wang Lung is left to deal with the constant disputes between his sons and their families. When his uncle's son and an army camp in his courts, he saves a young slave from being given to the man. Soon a long forgotten lust grows in him for the girl, but their relationship grows to be closer to that of a father and daughter, and in her love for him she promises to take care of his poor fool of a daughter whom no other would care for after he dies. With that releif, his mind begins to slip and he nears his end in relative peace, until too late and he discovers his sons' plan to sell his beloved land. C. Author's Writing Style: Pearl S. Buck's conclusion to her novel was crafty. With the mention of a single facial expression behind a character's back she leaves the writer to ponder the future of her characters. She also leaves the one to guess the whereabouts of Wang Lung's third son, and what will happen to his second daughter. Although she had been gone from the picture since she left for her husband's house, Buck cleverly reminds us of this character in the end of the novel: "And his mind went back many years and he saw it all clearly, even his little second daughter of whom he had heard nothing for longer than he could remember, and he saw her a pretty maid as she had been in his house, her lips as thin and red as a shred of silk- and she was to him like these who lay here in the land." (310). Character Development: Wang Lung had been filled with such joy and pride on the day his first son was born, more so than he felt at the birth of his other two. His eldest son was like him in nature: proud, lustful, and possessing a deep desire to be thought great by others. He constantly thought about what would appear proper in the eyes of the townspeople, like his well-bred wife. "More than anything he feared any who accused him of behavior that was not correct, as though he were common and ignorant." (249). This was the pride he had inhereted from Wang Lung, and this pride caused many disturbances within the household. He was never stingy with silver, pouring it out freely in order to decorate the house so that none would doubt his families wealth and greatness. "One side of his heart trumphed in his son's fineness, the other side was robust and scornful of him and this although he knew he was secretly proud of his son." (250). Wang Lung's second son contrasted vastly with his brother. It wasn't until the latter part of the novel that he really came into his own. His birth had been much less celebratory, and during his childhood he was often outshone by his older brother. "This lad he had, indeed scarcely known at all, for he grew up weak beside the vigor of his elder brother." (253). Wang Lung sent his second son to become an apprentice in the grain markets, so that one day he would benifit from having family in the business. This second son was much less troublesome than his brother, and therefore Wang Lung gave little thought to the boy and much time passed before he set to find him a wife. He found in talking to the boy about his ideal woman that he was indeed far more level headed and wise than his brother. "Now Wang Lung was the more astonished when he heard this talk, for here was a young man whose life he had not seen, even though it was his own son. It was not such blood as this that ran in his own lusty body when he was young, nor in the body of his eldest son; yet he admired the wisdom of the young man." (254). Having made the eldest son a scholar and his second son a merchant, Wang Lung decided simply that his last would work on the land. Yet as they grew in wealth, and he himself became to old to work the earth, it became appearant that there was no need for the boy to labor. In fact, it seemed inproper and would cause talk among the townspeople. This was well, for whenever Wang Lung had taken the boy out to the feild he had been sullen and silent. He grew to be a quiet boy in general, and wouldn't tell anyone what troubled him. "And whenever he went he took with him his youngest son, who was to be on the land after him, that the lad might learn. And Wang Lung never looked to see how the lad listened and whether he listened or not, for the lad walked with his head downcast and he had a sullen look on his face, and no one knew what he thought." (248). While their new house in the city served as camp for the army, he had sat in the outer courts and listened to their tales of war. He became fascinated by it from there on, and he began to show a passion for it that Wang Lung had not witnessed before. "And when the lad was still silent, he coaxed again, and he said, 'Tell your old father why you want to be a soldier?' And the lad said suddenly, and his eyes were alight under his brows, 'There is to be a war such as we have not heard of...and our land is to be free!' Wang Lung listened to this in the greatest astonishment he had yet had from his three sons." (295). When Wang Lung refuses to give him permission to join the army and angers him again by taking the slave whom he had admired, the boy runs away and years later Wang Lung hears rumors he is a general. The other two remain with their father and continue to disturb his peace. In the end he hears from their mouths the words he dreads most: "Sell the land". D. The last last lines of the novel were thoughtprovoking. "And they soothed him and they said over and over, the eldest son and the second son, 'Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.' But over the old man's head they looked at each other and smiled." (313). Throughout his existence, Wang Lung had valued his land over all else. He spoke wisely when he reasoned that one's land was the only thing that one couldn't be robbed of. While in reality this isn't necessarily true, one's land can indeed be taken, it's still more stable a possession than any other. Wang Lung witnessed the fall of great families who deserted and sold their land, and he resolved that he would never sell a bit of his own. It's sad that his wishes will not be carried out by his sons, and it is likely that Wang Lung's words would prove true: "If you sell the land, it is the end." (313). Thesis Entry: In Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth, straying from the land meant a decline in morality, humility, and eventually the downfall of great families.The fall of the House of Hwang due to the extravagance of the family: concubines, opium, and the abuse of slaves.Wang Lung's eldest son had been wealthy the better part of his life and had never had to work on the land; he turned out spoiled, narcisistic, and hot-headed. At the end of Wang Lung's life, having gained all the insight he could throughout his years, he is filled with dread when he hears his sons plan to sell his beloved land.