Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
The Good Earth
The Good Earth is a 1931 novel by American author Pearl S. Buck. Based on her experiences growing up to missionaries in China, Buck's novel examines Chinese life in the early 20th century with particular attention paid to the common people. Consider that the author is not Chinese but was raised deeply influenced by Chinese culture, there can be some interesting ideas about culture and representation with this work. If you're interested in exploring these ideas with your students, those questions are at the end of this set. The rest of these discussion questions are based on the novel itself and are adaptable and intended to help guide students through the themes and events of the story.
Questions About Settings And Characters
- Who is the main character of The Good Earth? Who is Wang Lung? What do we learn about him throughout the story? How would you describe his personality?
- Who is O-lan? How is she introduced to the reader? How is she described? What role does she play in the novel?
- Who are the other major characters of The Good Earth? If you had to categorize these characters based on how they impact Wang Lung, how would you sort them? Which characters have a positive impact on Wang Lung? Which ones have a negative impact?
- What are the major settings in The Good Earth? How is Wang Lung's village described in comparison to the larger cities?
- What is the importance of Wang Lung's land and simple earthen house? How are these locations described? What do they mean to Wang Lung? Why does he refuse to sell them, even during hard times? Why does he return here when he knows his days are numbered?
Questions About Plot And Themes
- How does The Good Earth start? Why does the novel start with a wedding? What might this symbolize?
- What are the major plot points of the novel? How do each of these moments impact the main characters?
- The plot of The Good Earth features numerous ups and downs for the main characters? Which moments indicate an increase in Wang Lung's prosperity? Which moments lead to a decrease in his prosperity? Which moments represent an increase or decrease in his happiness? Is his increased/decreased prosperity always directly linked to increased/decreased happiness? When do these match up? When don't they?
- One of the major themes of this novel is the impact of personal virtues and vices on happiness and prosperity. What are the virtues we see in this novel? Who embodies these virtues? What are the results of demonstrating virtue or having a virtuous character? What vices do we see? Who embodies these vices? What are the impacts of these vices on characters in this novel? How does Wang Lung go between virtues and vices throughout his life?
- Why is this book called The Good Earth? What is the author referring to? What makes this earth good? What does this reflect about Wang Lung's motivations, character arc, and struggles with his virtues and vices? What does this tell us about Wang Lung's attachment to his simple plot of land and his choice to return to the earthen house to die?
Questions About The Author
- Pearl S. Buck was a white woman born in the United States. What's her connection to China? What brought her family to China? How would this impact her relationship with Chinese culture?
- Is it possible to belong to a culture and still be an outsider in that culture? How might this have been the case with Pearl Buck? How well would you know a culture if you grew up there, living in that culture from infancy up until roughly age 17? Why might she still feel like an outsider?
- How do you think Pearl Buck's experiences impacted her ability to write this book? Can she claim to be a legitimate authority on daily life for peasants in early 20th-century China? In what way might her situation make her an ideal person to write this story and capture tiny details of Chinese life? In what way might this have been a challenge?
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