By Jakub Hałun (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I have to admit, that I wasn’t sure what to think when I started reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I certainly wasn’t very familiar with the ins and outs of Chinese culture, let alone the culture of Pre-Revolutionary rural China, but it didn’t take long for me to get drawn in by the story of Wang Lung, O-Lan and their family. Their trials and successes as they go through times of prosperity and famine also teach timeless lessons that we can apply to our lives today.
As you ponder that last statement here are some questions to get you ready for our discussion on Thursday. Most of these are taken or adapted from the discussion questions in the back of Sarah J.’s book (with a couple of my own thrown in).
- Describe Wang Lung’s expectations of his impending marriage at the beginning of the book. How does his marriage turn out in reality? How do Wang Lung’s expectations of marriage compare to the expectations of marriage in Western cultures?
- Why does Wang Lung feel compelled to purchase the rice field from the House of Hwang? Why does he at first regret it?
- Wang Lung considers the birth of his daughter to be a bad omen. How does he come to regard this girl, who grows up to be a “fool”?
- As the family works and begs in the city, what do they think of the foreigners they encounter? What purpose does the author serve in including these descriptions?
- When Wang Lung becomes swept up in the mob and enters the rich man’s house, is the gold he receives there a curse or a blessing? Do you feel any pity for the rich man?
- After O-Lan steals the jewels, do they function as a bad omen or good luck? Why does she want to keep the two pearls? Why is Wang Lung so astonished by this?
- As O-Lan dies, she bemoans her lack of beauty and says she is too ugly to be loved. Wang Lung feels guilty, but still cannot love her as he did Lotus. Neither woman can control destiny. Lotus was an orphan who had been sold into prostitution because she was beautiful, and O-Lan had been sold as a kitchen slave because she was plain. For whom do you feel sympathy? Why?
- Describe Wang Lung’s relationship with the House of Hwang throughout the novel. In the end, does he end up better off than they did?
- How does Wang Lung’s religious faith change throughout the novel? Do you see any parallels with the way people experience the Christian faith?
- Pearl S. Buck wrote a first-person novel from the point of view of a Chinese man, which was controversial because she was of a different culture. How might this book have been different if it had been written by a Chinese person?
See you Thursday! Until then, happy reading!