The Good Earth


Pearl Buck

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Themes and Colors
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Good Earth, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Rich vs. Poor

The overall arc of the story shows Wang Lung’s journey from a poor farmer to a rich landowner. This change is seen most clearly through his relationship with the Hwang family. At the beginning, Wang Lung goes to the House of Hwang as a poor man buying a wife, and he’s terrified of the wealthy and powerful Hwangs. Throughout the course of the story, however, he manages to buy up the Hwangs’ land as…

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Chinese society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as depicted in The Good Earth, revolves entirely around family structures, and so the course of the novel can be traced according to the development of Wang Lung’s family.

The book begins with Wang Lung becoming the head of his family—in some sense creating a family—by marrying O-lan, which enables him to have children and thus a line of descendants. Family line…

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The Oppression of Women

In The Good Earth, Buck portrays an extremely patriarchal society in which men hold almost complete power over women. The male characters see women within a dichotomy, meaning that there are only two options for their perception of women—as silent, obedient, honorable women, or as “whores” —and very little wiggle room exists between these roles. In either case, men consider women to essentially be their slaves, either as their unfailingly willing helpers or as…

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Connection to the Earth

The novel’s title – The Good Earth – makes reference to its portrayal of the importance of the land. Wang Lung starts out as a simple farmer, entirely dependent on the land, and he makes his fortune mostly by means of the land, first by farming it and eventually by renting it to others. The land acts as a life-giving force, seen most literally when in the famine, Wang Lung and his family resort…

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Social Status

No matter Wang Lung’s class status at any point, he’s always very conscious of acting in a way proper to his position so that others will respect him, either as a poor farmer or as a rich landowner with an extensive house.

When Wang Lung initially visits the House of Hwang to retrieve O-lan, he acts extremely deferentially towards the Old Mistress, making it clear that he presents no challenge to her…

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