The Good Earth


Pearl Buck

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The Good Earth Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Pearl Buck

Pearl S. Buck was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, but moved to China with her parents when she was only five months old. Her parents worked as Presbyterian missionaries. During the Boxer Rebellion—an uprising against foreign and Christian forces—Buck’s family lost most of their Chinese friends, but Buck’s father refused to believe the Chinese would actually harm him. Buck attended a Western school in Shanghai, where her classmates’ racist views of Chinese people contrasted with her parents’ beliefs in racial equality. Buck herself spoke both English and Chinese. In 1911, she returned to the United States to attend Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, in Virginia. After her graduation, she received news that her mother was ill, so she applied to become a missionary and returned to China, where she worked for eighteen years. She married another missionary, John Buck, in 1917, and they lived in Anhui Province, where much of The Good Earth takes place. In 1920 the couple moved to Nanjing, where Buck taught English literature at a university. The Bucks returned the U.S. for a year in the mid-1920s, during which time Buck went to graduate school at Cornell. Soon after they returned to China, an anti-Western uprising forced Buck’s family to hide in a poor Chinese family’s hut. They spent a year in Japan until it was safe to return to China. In the early 1930s, Buck gave a speech in New York arguing against the need for foreign missionaries in China. She was forced to resign as a missionary and returned to the U.S. In 1935 she divorced her husband and married Richard Walsh, her publisher. She received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. She spoke out on a variety of social issues, even starting the first international, interracial adoption agency. After the Communist Revolution in 1949, the new Chinese government forbade Buck from entering China. She died of lung cancer in 1973.
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Historical Context of The Good Earth

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, Western powers tried to open China for trade, and when China resisted, the West forced the country into treaties giving foreigners power within the country. This led to the weakening of the central government and its inability to provide for its people. It is possible that the uprising in the southern city in The Good Earth is based on the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. The Qing dynasty’s inability to deal effectively with increasing Western influence resulted in much discord. Eventually, revolutionaries raised rebellions all over the country, eventually overthrowing the Qing dynasty and setting up a republican government with Sun Yat-sen at the head. Additionally, in the early 1900s, before the revolution, the empress tried to implement reforms including the outlawing of slavery, foot-binding, and opium. As seen in the novel, however, the reforms were not well enforced, and many of these practices continued.

Other Books Related to The Good Earth

Buck wrote two further books focusing on Wang Lung’s children and grandchildren. These novels are titled Sons and A House Divided, and together the three books form the House of Earth trilogy. Sons tells the story of Wang Lung’s youngest son leading an army against warlords, while A House Divided deals with the youngest son’s son, Wang Yuan, joining an activist group and studying in America.
Key Facts about The Good Earth
  • Full Title: The Good Earth
  • When Written: 1929
  • Where Written: Nanjing, China
  • When Published: 1931
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Setting: Early nineteenth century China (Anhwei and Kiangsu)
  • Climax: Wang Lung sitting in the Old Mistress’s chair and deciding to rent the House of Hwang
  • Antagonist: Wang Lung’s uncle’s family, nature
  • Point of View: Third person limited

Extra Credit for The Good Earth

Divorced for a day. Buck married her second husband, Richard Walsh, on the very same day that she divorced her first, John Buck.

A connection transcending life. Buck designed her own gravestone, which sits in Pennsylvania and displays her name in Chinese characters.