Full Title   The Good Earth

Author  Pearl S. Buck

Type of work  Novel

Genre  Parable, American literature about China

Language  English

Time and place written   1930–1931

Date of first publication   1931

Publisher  The John Day Company

Narrator  The story is narrated in a coolly detached third-person voice that often describes Wang Lung’s thoughts and feelings and generally describes only the actions, and not the thoughts, of the other characters.

Point of View  The novel is written almost exclusively from Wang Lung’s point of view.

Tone  The narrator’s tone is solemn and detached. The story is told with a great deal of gravity, but the language is kept very simple and remains placid even when describing events of great trauma and upheaval. The story’s tone has reminded some readers of the Bible; it is based in part on the tone of much of the Chinese literature Buck knew well.

Tense  Past

Settings (Time)  Roughly 1890s–1930s

Settings (Place)  Anhwei, China; Wang Lung’s nearby farm; the far-off southern city of Nanking

Protagonist  Wang Lung

Major conflict  Wang Lung’s desire for wealth and status clashes with his simple respect for the earth and his adherence to old Chinese traditions of religious and filial piety. Later, Wang comes into conflict with his uncle’s family and with his children, as they exploit his wealth and disregard his wishes.

Rising action  The various natural disasters of the book—famine, drought, and flood; Wang Lung’s marriage to O-lan and the birth of his children; his struggle through poverty in Kiangsu

Climax  The financial success of Wang Lung

Falling action  Wang Lung’s increasing interest in women and sensual pleasures; his old age; the children’s decision to sell his land

Themes  Man’s relationship to the earth; wealth as a destroyer of traditional values; the place of women in Chinese culture

Motifs  The cycle of nature; religion

Symbols  Foot-binding; the House of Hwang; O-lan’s pearls

Foreshadowing  The downfall of the Hwangs foreshadows the downfall of Wang Lung’s family; the raid on Wang Lung’s house and the discovery that his sons have been stealing foreshadow Wang Lung’s own theft of the gold from the rich man’s house; Wang Lung’s disappointment in seeing O-lan’s unbound feet foreshadows his affair with Lotus, whose feet are bound.