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  • Rowdy 11:09 am on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Good Earth, Chapters 20-28 

    Welcome back, y’all! Another week of The Good Earth discussion, and we’re heading into the downward spiral, as it were. Looking back over the chapters, I guess it’s time to bring Wang Lung’s uncle, and his miserable family, center stage! How did you feel when Wang Lung’s uncle showed up at the door in Chapter 20 and the incorporation of his wife and son into the mix of Wang Lung’s house? His wife sure can’t keep her mouth shut, eh? This portion really tugged at my heart-strings for O-Lan:

    There came a broken sound from O-Lan, what it was she said he could not hear, but his uncle’s wife said again,

    And it is not to be thought, poor fool,that one woman is enough for any man, and if it is a wear hard-working woman who has worn away her flesh working for him, it is less than enough for him. His fancy runs elsewhere the more quickly, and you, poor fool, have never been fit for a man’s fancy and little better than an ox for his labor. And it is not for you to repine when he has money and buys himself another to bring her to his house, for all men are so, and would my old do-nothing also, except the poor wretch has never had enough silver in his life to feed himself even.

    Ugg! What a sad, frustrating sort of solidarity. The uncle’s wife knows her husband would’ve done the same, but he’s basically worthless and poor. Yay!

    Another character who takes center stage in this novel is Cuckoo–and what a fitting name! How do you feel about her role in the novel along with Lotus? Wang Lung was surprised that O-Lan’s frustrations came out against Cuckoo as opposed to Lotus, though with Cuckoo’s mouth and demeanor, I can’t say I was terribly surprised. With all these dueling personalities in the house, there was likely to be some cattiness and flared tempers.

    I was very proud of Wang Lung for standing up for his “fool” daughter in the face of Lotus’s anger. She was offended by the child and Wang Lung said, “Now I will not hear my children cursed, no and not by any one and not even my poor fool, and now by you who have no son in your womb for any man.”

    Sadly, in this section of the book, O-Lan , as well as Wang Lung’s father, meet their end. O-Lan remained unsung, and I think it’s obvious that Wang Lung struggled with her death. I was disappointed that he couldn’t seem to figure himself out! He can’t just mourn for her at first. He busies himself with preparations and rents a space for her coffin until the day of burial. When his father passes, though, he finds comfort in being near the coffin. Finally, on the day of burial he does inwardly chide himself for taking O-Lan’s pearls and thinks, “There in that land of mine is buried the first good half of my life and more. It is as though half of me were buried there, and now it is a different life in my house.”

    I think it’s obvious from the way this section ends in Chapter 28 that things are on a downward slope. Ching predicts floods and the land literally holds the best parts of Wang Lung’s life. Where do you think we’re going? Will it be a tragedy or will the land save our anti-hero?

    • mee 7:50 pm on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I read this last year. I thought the good portion of the book died along with O-Lan. Though she rarely talks her presence was always there. Felt a big loss when she was gone and I was just generally sad for her life, unloved til the end.

    • Patti Smith 10:39 pm on March 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I was so naively disappointed in Wang Lung when he gave in to Cukoo in the Tea House and asked to meet Lotus…but even more so when he brought this pretty much worthless woman into his household. Wang Lung had always complained about the extra mouths to feed when and if they could not pull their own weight so to speak…and there he goes bringing in pretty much dead weight to just sit around and be pretty…and service him when he pleased. I had thought Wang Lung so much smarter than that and it disappointed me to see that he could be duped just as easily as any other man…by a pretty woman.
      Cukoo is ridiculous…she has essentially sold her soul to the devil and capitalizes on the objectification of women…money has become her most important asset regardless of her own self worth and pride. I pitied her as much as I felt angry with her.
      I will miss Olan…I didn’t even feel bad for Wang Lung when she died…she gave him everything she had and was willing to work herself to the bone for his pleasure…but he still wasn’t satisfied. I know it seems mean but I was glad he suffered some when she died…although I didn’t feel he suffered nearly enough.
      It does feel like we are on a downward spiral…I had much higher hopes for this book…I hope Wang Lung is able to somehow convince me by the end of the story that he is worthy of my time and the Pulitzer Prize 😦

  • Rowdy 1:58 pm on February 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Good Earth, Chapters 10-19 

    Hello all! Welcome back for our second week of discussion of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth! This week we’re tackling chapters 10-19.

    So, if life in the countryside wasn’t hard enough, now Wang Lung and his family are headed south on the firewagon! This section was a bit like seeing an accident happen right in front of us! While my heart went out to the family as they begged on the street and Wang Lung pulled his riksha, I was also fascinated as the family erected their little tent and lived on their mats on the streets.

    Throughout the course of these chapters, Wang Lung really suffers at the hands of the city. He is constantly ridiculed, for the southerners see him as a country bumpkin with his pigtail. He also is faced with the realization of his own illiteracy of the written word.

    Finally, once Wang Lung returns to his own lands, we begin to see a shift in his character. To this point he’s been a little disappointing at times–especially in his relationship with O-Lan–but he begins to grow further away from her. His ego expands as his pocketbook grows.

    What your thoughts so far? Here are some questions I had for you all…

    • What do you think of the means by which Wang Lung got the money to return to his land?
    • Why do you think O-Lan wanted to keep the two pearls?
    • With Wang Lung realizing his lack of education, what role do you think education will play for his children and in his own future?
    • What did you think of Wang Lung’s experiences with the tea houe in Chapters 18 and 19 and the taking of O-Lan’s pearls?

    Meet me next Monday for discussion of Chapters 20-28!

    • Heather 9:41 am on February 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Wang Lung is a resourcefully thing, isn’t he? At first, there is that initial “I can’t believe he is doing that” when all those people ‘storm the castle’ as it were, but then, it was kind of “well, everyone else is doing it!” In the end, it felt kind of…well…fair! This whole section is such a great commentary on China and it’s socialist mien.

      I can’t blame O-Lan a bit. She wanted something for herself. Her whole life, she had never had a pretty thing. What is two pearls to Wang Lung, who had so much? I was so ANGRY with him when he took them from her. I do believe I saw red.

      Education is going to mean a lot, but I’ve already finished the book! Don’t want to give any spoilers!

      As for the pearls again, I was absolutely furious with Wang Lung. I know it’s a cultural thing, that people seem to think nothing of a man taking another wife, but to take O-Lan’s pearls, when they meant so much to her…it really showed how little he thought of her. If I had been reading the book, I might have thrown it across the room! But I couldn’t do that to my iPod.

      • Andi (Estella's Revenge) 11:16 am on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        He is very resourceful! I wish that made me like him more. LOL I agree on the commentary about socialist men. Give the circumstances I just don’t think there was any choice. I’d probably do the same thing. Wang Lung is still human at this point in the book.

        And I can’t blame O-Lan either. She deserved SOMETHING! Anything at this point.

        Finally, I totally agree about taking his pearls and passing those along to Lotus. What an ass! I think it plays out quite nicely in this next section, though. hehe

    • Patti Smith 6:17 pm on February 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      While I certainly wouldn’t condone stealing or dishonesty under normal circumstances, I think war and starvation bring out both the best and the worst in people. If my children were starving I think I could steal…I think. I was so frightened that Wang Lung would sell his daughter…and then I caught myself actually understanding how he could even think of such a thing…one life to save 5 others?
      I was glad Wang Lung took the money from the rich man…Wang Lung saw a way to save his family and he took advantage of the opportunity. Wealth doesn’t have to make people selfish and just plain mean. I’m a firm believer that treating others poorly will always come back around somehow/someway.

      I wonder if there is some deeper meaning behind the two pearls that we don’t know yet…and the fact that O-Lan wants them so close to her at all times? I’m still wondering about this.

      No matter how much money he has, Wang Lung sees that he cannot equal the “city” men…it’s a class separation rather than a financial one…with education or the lack of education being a true divider of men. I hope that Wang Lung’s sons will come back to run the land but with the education their father lacked. I hope that their father will find shame in his actions toward O-Lan…without her loyalty and hard work, he would have never succeeded.

      I was furious when Wang Lung began visiting the tea house. Like Heather said, it was like watching an accident as it is happening…I wanted to yell for Wang Lung to get out of there and go back home…to remember where he came from and all the lean years he’d survived with his family. I was absolutely nauseous when Wang Lung took O-Lan’s pearls…at that moment he officially becomes all that he used to despise in the fat oily rich men behind the brick walls.

    • Andi (Estella's Revenge) 11:18 am on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Patti, thanks sooo muchly for your awesome comments!

      I’m right there with you. I totally could steal if it meant my kiddos got to live and I got to go home to decent living conditions!

      I don’t know about the pearl symbolism beyond something crappy that happens in the next section, but I’ll wait on your comments about that later.

      There have been soooo many times in this book that I want to tell Wang Lung to remember where he came from. He never listens! He started out such an admirable character and to watch his moral demise over the course of the novel is sort of crushing. I pulled for him all the way, though. Buck certainly is a powerful writer in that regard.

      Looking forward to more of your comments!

  • Rowdy 11:59 am on February 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Good Earth, Chapters 1-9 

    Hello everyone, and a happy Valentine’s Day to you all. It’s time to get started with Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, and I can’t wait to read what you all have to say about it!

    These early chapters were probably my favorite part of the book. They lay the groundwork for this time period in China and the characters Wang Lung and O-lan. I’ve always been fascinated with books that allow me to sink into a time period or specific geographic region, and obviously this book offers both. I like historical fiction that meticulously outlines the daily minutiae of  life.  Thinking back to my childhood, the first book to allow me this opportunity was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I don’t come across them often–maybe I’m just not reading the right historical fiction–but The Good Earth is the first book in a long while that made me feel as if I were living right alongside the characters.

    Speaking of the characters, I think they are marvelously fleshed out. Wang Lung’s drive to work the land and succeed, come hell or high water, is intense and wrenching. O-lan’s hard work and endurance is astounding and sort of heartbreaking since she doesn’t get the type of attention we, as readers, probably feel she deserves for her hard work.

    In recent weeks, as you all have started reading, I’ve heard from several people that this book could “Rip your heart out!” and I can’t argue with that sentiment. But why and how does it rip our hearts out?

    Some questions for you all to think and chat about:

    • What expectations did you bring to the book if you’re reading it for the first time?
    • What do you think of the characters and their respective plights?
    • What details of daily life in China have delighted, sickened, or surprised you?
    • What does Wang Lung’s proclamation of “At least I have the land–I have the land” foreshadow and is it a promising mantra?

    While you all peruse those questions and toss out your initial thoughts, I hope you’re enjoying the next leg of the book! See you back here for discussion of Chapters 10-19 on the 21st!

    • Heather 6:04 pm on February 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Well. I brought a lot of expectations to the book, the first of which was that I would probably love it. You haven’t been wrong yet Andi! As for the characters, wow! These characters are some of the most well written, well thought out, and delightfully conflicted I have ever encountered. Wang Lung….his life was a roller-coaster and it was some ride. There were times I loved him, times I wanted to strangle him, and times I just shook myself in bewilderment at him! And O-Lan. Poor, poor O-Lan. I just wanted to hug her. She needed to be loved better than she was.

      The way women were treated in China definitely sickened me. O-Lan was a slave, and even after Wang Lung took her, her life barely improved. I mean, leaving her bed after giving birth to join him in the fields? And he not saying a word to her about it? Yeah, I wanted to smack him upside the head a few times!

      The way the Chinese treated their elderly was surprising. The fact that Wang Lung’s father would eat before anyone, even a breastfeeding mother, was unbelievable. I think the elderly should be treated with respect but I also know if my grandchildren were starving, I would give them my food.

      “At least I have the land-I have the land” was very prophetic! Wang Lung will do anything for his land and to get more. And yes, it’s promising.

      • Andi 12:45 pm on February 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        I’m glad you liked it, Heather! My record continues! LOL

        I definitely wanted to smack Wang Lung upside the head as well. My heart broke for O-Lan over and over again, but then again, I tried to remove myself somewhat from my contemporary mindset and not put my expectations of the treatment of women onto these characters. I never said I was very successful at that, though!

        I was also constantly agog at the grandfather. He just seemed like such a miserable little thing, and personally I would have a hard time eating before a breastfeeding mother or my grandkids. The cultural differences are so pronounced, again, it’s hard to step out of our contemporary mindset.

    • Patti Smith 6:24 pm on February 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I really didn’t have any expectations for the book…I’ve, of course, heard of it many times through the years but never really knew past the general synopsis what the book was all about. I also am addicted to the characters even this early in our reading. The father is the one I wanted to smack in the head more times than anyone else…and that horrible uncle!!

      O-lan is a character like none other that I can think of. What a tough cookie…isn’t that an understatement?? I don’t harbor much resentment toward Wang Lung because his behavior is what is expected from a man of his age and his place in society. Actually the survival of his family depends on that he acts as he is supposed to…talk about complicated. Even if he wanted to change things, it would be impossible to the detriment of all who live under his roof. I do think he feels for O-Lan and I hope that is something that will grow as we continue to read.

      I did realize to some extent how repressed women were in Chinese society but to hear it spoken as in normal conversation and accepted as “the way things are” breaks my heart. To me, when the fourth child is born is absolutely the scene that gives us an insight into how ingrained that repression was….makes me shiver to even think of it now.

      Ok, please don’t think I am a goofy Southerner…but that whole “At least I have the land – I have the land” sounds sooooo much like Scarlett O’Hara…if Wang Lung had sold the land, the others could take away anything he had bought…but they couldn’t take the land. I hope this foreshadows prosperity for Wang Lung and O-Lan sometime in the future.

      I’m loving this book :):)

    • Andi 12:48 pm on February 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Patti, thanks for joining us! That uncle is a piece.of.work. Uggg!!! I can’t say he grows up much either, but I won’t give any more than that away. lol

      O-Lan is definitely a tough cookie, and I found her the most sympathetic character in the whole darn thing (maybe aside from the innocent children). I think you make a good point about Wang Lung’s place in society — the family wouldn’t survive in that culture and that time period if he didn’t act just as we’ve seen thus far. It’s a hard mindset to get into. It was definitely enlightening for me as a reader.

      And Heather and I are both southerners, and I’m sure we both screamed “SCARLETT!!!” in our heads at the last line about the land.

      Glad you love it! I’m looking forward to discussing more with you. 🙂

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