Pearl S. Buck was born 1892 and died in 1973 at age 81. Most of her early life was spent in China as the daughter of missionaries. Her novel The Good Earth was the best selling fiction book in the United States in 1931 and 1932 and it won  the Pulitzer prize. In 1938 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the first for a woman, “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces”. She was an advocate for woman’s rights and a champion of minorities. The Good Earth is the first book in a trilogy that includes “Sons” (1932) and “A House Divided” (1935).



The Good Earth is Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck’s epic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Oprah Book Club selection about a vanished China and one family’s shifting fortunes. Though more than seventy years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. In The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century.

Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel—beloved by millions of readers—is a universal tale of an ordinary family caught in the tide of history.  [Amazon review]


Study Questions

1.  The novel begins with Wang Lung’s expectation of rain, the daily boiling of water for his father, and his bathing for his wedding. What might this water imagery foreshadow?

2.  Why does Wang Lung feel compelled to purchase the rice field from the House of Hwang? Why does he at first regret it?

3.  “And so this parcel of land became to Wang Lung a sign and a symbol.” What does the author mean by this?

4.  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 become a fool?

5.  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?

6.  The abundance of food in the city contrasts with the characters impoverished lives. Discuss the emotionally complex relationship Wang Lung develops with the city.

7.  The poor laborers in the city lack knowledge even of what they look like, a fact illustrated by the man who mocks himself in a mirror. How does a new self-awareness come to manifest itself?

8.  When Wang Lung becomes swept up with 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? What do you think the author intended you to feel?

9.  After O-lan steals the jewels, do they function as a bad omen or good luck? Why does O-lan want to keep the two pearls? Why is Wang Lung so astonished by this? What do the pearls signify?

10.  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?

11.  How does the book’s ending foretell a sequel?

12.  What span of years do you think the novel spanned?

13.  Did novel reveal any information about how the author felt about the Chinese people?

The Book Report Network



Two things that stood out in the discussion of this book were: “I’m glad I read it for school but I raced through it. This time I read slowly and with pleasure.” Most had to do almost a double take to realize that this was set on the 20s. Life of the peasants was so basic it seemed more like they lived in the 19th century, even the earlier part.

The uncompromising veneration of the oldest male was obvious to all. This occurred even if the guy was a rat which was the case with the uncle. It was then acknowledged that the uncle’s criminal connects remained a threat that could come into play at any time. What about the women, people thought? Their treatment was not good and included the flouting of a concubine in the presence of a faithful and hard-working peasant wife. It was sad that the only valued possession this woman had was the two pearl she acquired when she took part in ransacking a wealthy man’s house when the family was in the south. Sad.

This book received praise from all readers. Several described their own personal experiences during visits to China or speaking with friends and relatives who had experience the country.

This book reinforced the strong feeling of the club about the value of finding older books that are well written, entertaining , and informative.



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