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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Buck draws parallels between the natural cycle of growth,
death, and regeneration and the rise and fall of human fortune and
human life. When O-lan gives birth to her first two sons, for instance,
she immediately returns to tending the fields, which connects the
creation of human life to the bounty of the earth. Similarly, the droughts,
floods, and famines that ruin the earth’s harvest are metaphorically
linked to death and downfall.
Wang Lung’s religious observance serves as a measuring
stick of his mindset. When Wang Lung feels a strong connection to
the earth and when his fortunes are good, he is extremely pious
and frequently shows signs of faith in the earth god (as when, for
instance, he burns incense to celebrate his marriage to O-lan).
When his connection to the earth is weak and when his fortunes decline,
he often reacts with bitterness toward the gods and does not outwardly
worship them (as when he refuses to acknowledge their statues when
he moves his family south during the famine). When Wang is in a period
of transition, as when his fortunes are changing, he is often anxious
about the gods and prays frequently to them to preserve his good
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Good Earth!