The Good Earth (House of Earth, #1) The Good Earth discussion


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Wang Lung's complex character

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Adrienne I had such a weird reaction to this book. In the end, I think it is because of the complexity of Wang Lung's character. In the beginning he's so simple and then as the book progresses he becomes more and more complicated, more and more human. It was hard for me to ever decide what I thought about him. So often he behaved deplorably even though the narrator gave us a peek into his real feelings, which were quite the opposite of his behavior. I really feel like that view of him is what contributed to my confused feelings about him. Did anyone else have this experience?


Melissa I don't know if you'll ever read this Adrienne, since it's months after your post, but I too was torn with the character Wang Lung. He is so frustrating some times yet other times I really related to him. I could never forgive him for his lack of loyalty and love for O-lan, whom I loved in this book. I loved her silence and quiet loyalty and wisdom. He frustrated me beyond my understanding with her, but other things like with his dispictable uncle and nephew, I related to it and understood his frustration. I also loved that his character always loved the soil/earth that gave him his life. I loved that part of his character. Anyway, yes I agree with you. He is a very complex character and he is very real. I read the original (not Enriched Classic) so I'm not sure what differences there were between our reads, but anyway it was a great book.


message 3: by sab (new) - rated it 3 stars

sab Another comment, oh so many months later! I just finished the book last night and, I have to say, I just can't like Wang Lung. I can respect him for his love of the land but simultaneously can't because he is constantly rationalizing his behavior. No person is all good or all bad and he clearly exmplifies this with his integrity and swoops of compassion on one hand and his bad temper and sexism/classism attitudes on the other. I can't blame him for not being in love with O-lan despite our admiration for her--in fact,I appreciate that he's honest about that. I CAN be upset by his disrespect of her, however. Nonetheless, I was able to read the book and enjoy it despite my anger toward Wang Lung (and his two oldest boys, oy vey.) I really liked the ending. Funny, because this is where I really learned that I didn't like Wang Lung; I didn't care that HE was going to lose the land but, more so, I was struck by the importance of the earth.


Kara I did love this book despite my conflict with the main character for the reasons already mentioned. But I think that Wang Lung's character development is not unusual for someone who has success. He gains money and success because he is careful, works hard, and saves. But then he gets caught up in himself and the way people now respond to his money.I think this is one of the reasons that the book is still relevant today because people still act this way. I mean look at Brittany Spears. Such a complex character! Loved the book!


message 5: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz I agree with everyone! I liked him so much (unlike his sons) but I knew that I shouldn't like him because of the way he treated O-Lan. And his other despicable traits. But in the end I felt so much pity for him and I knew that deep down he was an admirable man. That just goes to show Buck had great character development. To make you hate and love someone, that's powerful.


message 6: by Laura (new)

Laura I really liked the author's characterization of O-Lan. She was so unselfish and hard working. Wang Lung would never have survived, not to mention succeeded, without her. I couldn't forgive his character for being disloyal to her. I appreciated the contrast made between Olan and the prostitute who captured Wang Lung and preyed upon his insecurities to provide security for her aging self. She could provide Wang Lung with nothing compared to Olan, yet Wang Lung prized her. The final love interest of Wang Lung seemed to bring him somewhat back to a remembrance of himself and the importance of not trying to be something other than who you are. This brings him back to the Earth which gave him his beginnings as a farmer, and a farmer he becomes again, not ashamed of simple food and ways.


message 7: by Ellie (new)

Ellie I had to read this book for English Lit 9 this year, and to be quite honest I was astonished by the complexity of the main character Wang Lung. In all Wang Lung is a good man at heart, but there are certainly grounds to argue the contrary. Issues such as infanticide, pillaging, slavery, drug selling, and other less severe actions raised questions about what codes of morality exist in this novel. At times I was also captivated by how relatable his actions are to societies that exist today. Although I did not like him, I believe that by reading this novel of his life, a person gets a better understanding of the tragedy that plagued families during those times. It also makes you want to be a better person.


message 8: by Ridge (new)

Ridge Peterson Hmm...I feel kinda awkward being that I am the only male figure within this group of readers, but that is of no importance now. I actually really like this book, and I sincerely agree with everyone on the fact that Wang Lung is a bone fide jerk who respects his land but not his wife. I am in 10th grade and I read this novel from my pre-IB english class with Mrs. Pugh, who is AWESOME, and am currently making a bloom ball for her, and I just wanted to thank everyone for their comments, and how they are helping me somewhat grasp this novel and it's character development to it's fullest extent.


message 9: by Bea (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bea I read this book for the Seasonal Reading Challenge on GR. I have heard of this book and had a copy of it for a long time but was never motivated to actually read it.

Now that I have, I understand why it is such a classic. It is the story of everyman. Wang was a simple man raised with simple country values in old China. He had not been confronted with many choices or options in his life until he was an adult. He world centered around the land and his village. However, as he matured and started an adult life of marriage and family, he began to notice and wonder about other lifestyles.

I see this story as a good basic man enticed to try out other lifestyles before finding that his own - tied to the land - is right for him. Over and over he learns this until it becomes real.

His relationship with O-lan strikes me as typical in the timeframe of the story. We, in modern western society, are mired in the idea of love being part of marriage and of a woman having worth of her own. Other societies did not subscribe to those thoughts and some still don't. I don't think you can fault him too badly for being a typical male in his own society. And, I think in the end, he did find out that he loved her.

This book is a classic simply because it reflects any person's search for who they truly are and what is meaningful in their own life.

I was very impressed by it and will certainly read more by Pearl S Buck.


message 10: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe A brilliant book.

Those that move away from the Earth, lose their humaness.


Kressel Housman From Kara: "Wang Lung's character development is not unusual for someone who has success. He gains money and success because he is careful, works hard, and saves. But then he gets caught up in himself and the way people now respond to his money.I think this is one of the reasons that the book is still relevant today because people still act this way."

Well said! And the children of such self-made people often turn out just like his did.

One of the things that amazed me was seeing how well the novel dovetailed with Malcolm Gladwell's description of rice farmers in Outliers. "Nobody can wake up before dawn 360 days a year and fail to make his family rich." At the beginning, he and O-lan lived that - especially her, sewing up a storm when she was finally freed from farm work.


Mary JL The Good Earth has long been one of my favorites.

I read several of Pearl S Buck's novels. I can strongly recommend The Mother (hard to find and not as well known but worth searching for!); Pavilion of Women; and lastly Imperial Woman.

There are two sequal to the Good Earth--Sons and A House Divided. Not as well known as the first book and imho only, not as good.

But then, very few books beat The Good Earth.


Kressel Housman Anyone interested in Jewish history will be interested in Buck's Peony, which is about a Chinese bondmaid in a Jewish family in Kai Feng in the 1850's. But from a Jewish perspective, the book is 100% tragic.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

I read Good Earth 50 years back. I was a teen ager. Loved it then I am going to buy this book and read it again. Her writting is great. I read a book byAnche Min about Pearl S Buck it was very good


Mary JL Kressel: I read Peony as well. Excellent.


message 16: by Joe (last edited May 12, 2011 08:42PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe The BIG WAVE is a small but powerful book. It is an easy, yet emotional journey. One of my favorites.
Like the GOOD EARTH, it is brings us close to the land. While this book has tragedy at its core, it tells a life affirming story.


message 17: by Zayd (new) - rated it 2 stars

Zayd khan many reader complained about wang's character was too complex to understand...but for me it was very much clear and his character became complex as his life got too much complexities later...so it was very much justified how and why wand become so complex...


message 18: by Lorrie (new) - added it

Lorrie I certainly appreciated Bea's comment. Wang was a man with good/honest values who evolved into a more complex character. His values & lifestyle became skewed. In the end he chose his original lifestyle. I could not give the book 5 stars simply because it was so honestly & simply written, I knew what was going to happen before it happened. I didn't like that.


Kperry167 Mary JL wrote: "The Good Earth has long been one of my favorites.

I read several of Pearl S Buck's novels. I can strongly recommend The Mother (hard to find and not as well known but worth searchin..."


Thanks for the recommendations. I've put both books on my "to read" list. I loved Good Earth and I look forward to reading more of her work.


Daniel wang lung you shit, o-lan my heart ached for you


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I felt sorry for Wang Lung at times. Mostly when he was insulted for being a Northern Chinese, and also at the very end when his sons were conspiring to get more money. Overall, though, O-lan was a wonderful character. The main characters were all complex, but Wang Lung became so stupid I didn't want to admit to the fact.

His emotions were understandable as everyone on Earth has experienced them at one time or other. Another reason for me to not 100% despise him. Even though O-lan seemed to not come into the story as much after the first 10 or so chapters, I still liked her more than Wang Lung.

Sometimes I wonder why Pearl Buck could have made such monsters with Lotus and Wang Lung's sons. I found the book to be very good, but I'm still disappointed with the ending. *It's all your fault, Wang Lung!!!


Melanie "There in that land of mine is buried the first good half of my life and more. It is as though half of me were buried there, and now it is a different life in my house.”

I loved this quote upon O-lan's death. I had to stop reading and just think of their relationship.

I'm not a fan of Wang Lung, but you do understand him. He had a mid-life crisis when he fell for Lotus, and she made him feel good. O-lan was an arranged marriage and not based out of love. However, he did respect her unlike he did with Lotus.

We are told the story from Wang-Lung's view. We are never inside O-lan, Lotus, or the son's heads. Maybe we would feel very similar about each of them if we knew their thoughts and reasons for their actions.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, guess you've got a point. We all make some pretty yucky mistakes in life, and for Wang Lung, it was Lotus. Honestly I can't truly blame him. He lived his life as a peasant and finally when he got to be rich he wanted to have what he thought all rich men deserved. I don't agree with what he did, but I don't blame him nor do I think he was purely bad because of that one mistake.


message 24: by Team (new)

Team Jack Townsend Honestly, I'm reading this book for English and I'm still reading the it at the moment but it's really hard to read it right now, because I really hate Wang Lung for what he's doing to Olan, I understand that she's not that beautiful but she's a hell of a lot better than that Lotus girl. He barely even had to buy Olan stuff, and she helped him with the work, even when she was very pregnant, she's very strong and bright and nice and barely asks for anything and then he takes her jewels and gives them to some prostitute? It's disgusting and I hate him for it. I really liked him in the beginning but now he's become like all the other rich men, even though he grew up a poor boy. He should just be happy with what he got. A wonderful wife and five wonderful children. Even if one of them still hasn't learned to speak yet, he loves her and he's an idiot for what he's doing. I'm sorry but I just feel very strongly about this :/


Kressel Housman Read on. He'll get his comeuppance.


message 26: by Team (new)

Team Jack Townsend Haha I sure hope so


Camille Patricia De Lara It was said in the book that Wang Lung's first/real love was Lotus. For me, Wang Lung never really loved Louts. He just felt lustful for her.

I felt really really sad when I read the end part of the book. It's almost as if he just became like another Old Master Hwang.

BTW, O-lan forever. <3 Such an amazing wife. I like how she's the type of woman who listens and listens. She's the exact opposite of today's biggest stereotype of mothers, which is the 'nagger' type. She's also strong not just physically, but also emotionally :)


message 28: by Camille (last edited Jan 03, 2014 10:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Camille Wang Lung was a man of his times. He wanted the privileges of wealth and position that he believed he had earned. Not exactly a stand-up kind of man, but to be fair -- he took care of his old father, engaged in back-breaking labor (as did O-Lan),and gave his children better than he ever had. Unfortunately, the conditions of the times almost encouraged him to break the heart of his faithful, long-suffering wife. He was a better man before he became so wealthy. However, the sins of the father ....


Daniel Camille wrote: "Wang Lung was a man of his times. He wanted the privileges of wealth and position that he believed he had earned. Not exactly a stand-up kind of man, but to be fair -- he took care of his old fathe..."

well said


Stephen I just recently completed reading this and I felt that Wang Lung was a sympathetic (if not always likable) character. I think we often judge characters by our modern standards when those standards really didn't exist at the time.

Just the fact that Wang Lung was somewhat likable without being a stereotype this many years after he was created shows Buck's brilliance. Personally, I think that Wang Lung is a much more real character than Mung Kee or whatever James A. Michener called his Chinese man in Hawaii though that was written many years later. Both are realistic and somewhat sympathetic but Wang Lung somehow just rings truer.


Maryann Korzeniewski Peony is one of my favorite books!


Dushyant "wang lung you shit, o-lan my heart ached for you"

I also sympathize with O-Lan but remember how brutal she was in killing their ox? She even had the idea of selling their mentally challenged daughter. She accepted her fate as a woman, that only draws our sympathy.


message 33: by Lisa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lisa Gandy I just finished reading The Good Earth. I loved the first half of the book and was compelled to read it every day, but after O-Lan died I struggled to pick it up and finish it. I was so disgusted by the behavior of every character that was left that it was a burden to read.

We have to realize, though, that Pearl S. Buck is giving us a glimpse into an era in China where this type of behavior is common and even sanctioned. To us it isn't pretty but at that time in that part of the world it was normal and accepted.

The story of Wang Lung is the every man story, as someone else suggested. Within each of us there is good and there is evil. We have to fight daily to overcome the natural man with it's appetites, desires, and temptations and rise above to something more worthwhile. It all boils down to pride which, if taken too far, is the enemy of goodness.


message 34: by Paul (last edited Aug 02, 2015 07:35PM) (new)

Paul Charbonnet This is the story of life, love, fulfillment, and the struggle to be fruitful and multiply. Every society of mankind has evolved a culture that pursue's the same goals. Pearl Buck choose a moment in China to place her story. Shakespeare wrote a thread in the same tale in Romeo and Juliet. The story same is told of a woman of the South in Gone With the Wind.

A review that focuses on feminism, cruelty to animals, foot-binding, unrealistic portrayal of China, etc. totally misses the point.

Look around yourself and you will find all the characters of The Good Earth around your today. Understand that this is a story in which we are all immersed.


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Good Earth (other topics)
Pavilion of Women: A Novel of Life in the Women's Quarters (other topics)
Imperial Woman (other topics)
Hawaii (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

James A. Michener (other topics)