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Monday, February 07, 2005

'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck

Photo taken on January 27, 2005, Thursday, in my nest Posted by Hello

At last, I've finished reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973) – an old novel I would have yet to discover if not having seen Oprah Winfrey endorsing it last December in her TV show. The raves were right, as far as my literary taste is concerned.

First published in 1931, The Good Earth was a good read, very inspiring. Like Adeline Yen Mah's books, it gave me a glimpse of a traditional China struggling against the modernization primarily caused by globalization.

Set in a rural landscape in early–nineteenth century China, The Good Earth plots the life of a Chinese farmer—named Wang Lung—from his marriage day to his old age. It also touches on hard work, achieving big dreams through simple visions, struggling to keep one's sanity and humanity, resisting and giving in to earthly desires, coming of age, parental instinct, and, most of all, returning to one's roots after a long and grandiose yet exhausting journey through Life.

Here are some quotable excerpts from...

The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck
(1994, Enriched Classic Edition / Pocket Books)

from Chapter 1:
"With weddings costing as they do in these evil days and every woman wanting gold rings and silk clothes before she will take a man, there remain only slaves to be had for the poor."

"It is better to be first with an ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty."

from Chapter 7:
"Where the fields of others bear good rice and wheat, ours bear weeds; where the houses of others stand for a hundred years, the earth itself shakes under ours so that the walls crack; when others bear men, I, although I conceive a son, will yet give birth to a girl—ah, evil destiny!"

from Chapter 8:
"They cannot take the land from me. The labor of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away."

from Chapter 12:
"Now will I not eat this meat!" cried Wang Lung angrily. "We will eat meat that we can buy or beg, but not that which we steal. Beggars we may be but thieves we are not." And he took the meat [his elder son stole from a butcher] out of the pot with his two fingers and threw it upon the ground and was heedless of the younger lad's howling.

"Then O-lan [the wife] came forward in her stolid fashion and she picked up the meat and washed it off with a little water and thrust it back into the boiling pot. "Meat is meat," she said quietly.

[Wang Lung] said nothing when O-lan pulled the tender cooked flesh apart with her chopsticks...and ate of it herself, he himself would have none of it, contenting himself with the cabbage he had bought.

from Chapter 13:
Men labored all day at the baking of breads and cakes for feasts for the rich and children labored from dawn to midnight and slept all greasy and grimed as they were upon rough pallets on the floor and staggered to the ovens next day, and there was not money enough given them to buy a piece of the rich breads they made for others.

from Chapter 17:
"It is true that this is a shame to me that I cannot read and write. I will take my elder son from the fields and he shall go to a school in the town and he shall learn, and when I go into the grain markets he will read and write for me so that there may be an end of this hissing laughter against me, who am a landed man."

from Chapter 20:
"When a man's house is full of wild dogs he must seek peace elsewhere."

from Chapter 22:
As he had been healed of his sickness of heart when he came from the southern city and comforted by the bitterness he had endured there, so now again Wang Lung was healed of his sickness of love by the good earth of his fields and he felt the moist soil on his feet and he smelled the earthy fragrance rising up out of the furrows he turned for the wheat.

from Chapter 34:
Then his sons bought a carved coffin hewn from a great log of fragrant wood which is used to bury the dead in and for nothing else because that wood is as lasting as iron, and more lasting than human bones, and Wang Lung was comforted. And he had the coffin brought into his room and he looked at it every day.


"This field we will sell and this one, and we will divide the money between us evenly. Your share I will borrow at good interest, for now with the railroad straight through I can ship rice to the sea and I..."

But the old man heard only these words, "sell the land," and he cried out and he could not keep his voice from breaking and trembling with his anger, "Now, evil, idle sons—sell the land!" He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him up, and he began to weep. Then they soothed him and they said, "No—no—we will never sell the land—"

"It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land," [Wang Lung] said brokenly. "Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land——"

"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.

The sentiments or principles being expressed, implied, or impressed by the excerpts I quoted above do not necessarily reflect my own view. They earned my picky pen simply because they either awed me or appalled me—especially deplorable were the male-chauvinistic ways of thinking during those patriarchal times.

Nonetheless I'd like to emphasize that, in retrospect, most of the men in those patriarchal times—who thought lowly of women (and children)—are more forgivable than the males of our times because patriarchy was the norm back then. Unpardonable, to reiterate, are the males of today who, despite the revolution of the females' role in our society and the advancement of knowledge, still think lowly of women—such men are those who deserve to be dismissed as lowly and pathetic human beings (if "beings" they may be called at all).

Moreover these male-chauvinistic ways come in various forms and degrees, from guys who tend to whistle, smirk, or jeer when a girl of their fancy is passing by to boyfriends and husbands who justify infidelity or verbal and physical abuse as a masculine privilege.


  • At Wednesday, February 09, 2005 3:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "It is better to be first with an ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty." --> how offensive (bothways). i know, i know, it's lifted from a book written at a very patriarchal time. but still...can't help but raise an indignant eyebrow...coz y'know, some cromags still ascribe to this view. argh. we really need to be sensitized and push for more policies and programs on gender mainstreaming.

  • At Wednesday, February 09, 2005 1:08:00 PM, Blogger eLf ideas said…

    May I express my disclaim on that view. Yes, many people, obviously males, to this day, still ascribe to that disgusting belief; and I don't share their rapture on that.


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