In The Good Earth, for the first time, American and European readers encountered Chinese characters who thought and behaved like ordinary, believable human beings rather than cartoon “Orientals.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 18-19. Accessed: 10/18/2017
This was the last morning he would have to light the fire. He had lit it every morning since his mother died six years before. He had lit the fire, boiled water, and poured the water into a bowl and taken it into the room where his father sat upon his bed, coughing and fumbling for his shoes upon the floor. Every morning for these six years the old man had waited for his son to bring in hot water to ease him of his morning coughing. Now father and son could rest. There was a woman coming to the house. Never again would Wang Lung have to rise summer and winter at dawn to light the fire. He could lie in his bed and wait, and he also would have a bowl of water brought to him, and if the earth were fruitful there would be tea leaves in the water. Once in some years it was so.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 60-65. Accessed: 10/23/2017
“And what will we do with a pretty woman? We must have a woman who will tend the house and bear children as she works in the fields, and will a pretty woman do these things? She will be forever thinking about clothes to go with her face! No, not a pretty woman in our house. We are farmers. Moreover, who has heard of a pretty slave who was virgin in a wealthy house? All the young lords have had their fill of her. It is better to be first with an ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty. Do you imagine a pretty woman will think your farmer’s hands as pleasing as the soft hands of a rich man’s son, and your sunblack face as beautiful as the golden skin of the others who have had her for their pleasure?”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 136-141. Accessed: 10/23/2017
When he reached the house he found his supper hot on the table and the old man eating. She had stopped in her labor to prepare them food! He said to himself that she was a woman such as is not commonly found.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 491-493. Accessed: 10/23/2017
“Those are not for us to eat, beyond one or two of the plain ones for guests to taste. We are not rich enough to eat white sugar and lard. I am preparing them for the Old Mistress at the great house. I shall take the child on the second day of the New Year and carry the cakes for a gift.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 620-622. Accessed: 10/24/2017
But there came a day when there was no rice left and no wheat left and there were only a few beans and a meager store of corn, and the ox lowed with its hunger and the old man said, “We will eat the ox, next.” Then Wang Lung cried out, for it was to him as though one said, “We will eat a man next.” The ox was his companion in the fields and he had walked behind and praised it and cursed it as his mood was, and from his youth he had known the beast, when they had bought it a small calf. And he said, “How can we eat the ox? How shall we plough again?”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 918-923. Accessed: 10/24/2017
“Not that—not that yet,” she called out. “It is not yet time to take our table and the benches and the bed from our house. You have all our food. But out of your own houses you have not sold yet your table and your benches. Leave us ours. We are even. We have not a bean or a grain of corn more than you—no, you have more than we, now, for you have all of ours. Heaven will strike you if you take more. Now, we will go out together and hunt for grass to eat and bark from the trees, you for your children, and we for our three children, and for this fourth who is to be born in such times.” She pressed her hand to her belly as she spoke, and the men were ashamed before her and went out one by one, for they were not evil men except when they starved.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 954-959. Accessed: 10/24/2017
Only a few of the beans did Wang Lung bide in his own hand and these he put into his own mouth and he chewed them into a soft pulp and then putting his lips to the lips of his daughter he pushed into her mouth the food, and watching her small lips move, he felt himself fed.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1035-1037. Accessed: 10/24/2017
“Where is the child?” he asked. She made a slight movement of her hand upon the bed and he saw upon the floor the child’s body. “Dead!” he exclaimed. “Dead,” she whispered. He stooped and examined the handful of its body—a wisp of bone and skin—a girl. He was about to say, “But I heard it crying—alive—” and then he looked at the woman’s face. Her eyes were closed and the color of her flesh was the color of ashes and her bones stuck up under the skin—a poor silent face that lay there, having endured to the utmost, and there was nothing he could say. After all, during these months he had had only his own body to drag about. What agony of starvation this woman had endured, with the starved creature gnawing at her from within, desperate for its own life! He said nothing, but he took the dead child into the other room and laid it upon the earthen floor and searched until he found a bit of broken mat and this he wrapped about it. The round head dropped this way and that and upon the neck he saw two dark, bruised spots, but he finished what he had to do. Then he took the roll of matting, and going as far from the house as he had strength, he laid the burden against the hollowed side of an old grave. This grave stood among many others, worn down and no longer known or cared for, on a hillside just at the border of Wang Lung’s western field. He had scarcely put the burden down before a famished, wolfish dog hovered almost at once behind him, so famished that although he took up a small stone and threw it and hit its lean flank with a thud, the animal would not stir away more than a few feet. At last Wang Lung felt his legs sinking beneath him and covering his face with his hands he went away.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1051-1064. Accessed: 10/24/2017
And she took her empty bowl in her hand and held it out and called piteously, “A heart, good sir—a heart, good lady! Have a kind heart—a good deed for your life in heaven! The small cash—the copper coin you throw away—feed a starving child!” The little boys stared at her, and Wang Lung also. Where had she learned to cry thus? How much there was of this woman he did not know! She answered his look saying, “So I called when I was a child and so I was fed. In such a year as this I was sold a slave.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1282-1286. Accessed: 10/24/2017
And at night he knew that he drew men to big tea houses and to places of pleasure, the pleasure that is open and streams out upon the streets in the sound of music and of gaming with pieces of ivory and bamboo upon a wooden table, and the pleasure that is secret and silent and hidden behind walls. But none of these pleasures did Wang Lung know for himself, since his feet crossed no threshold except that of his own hut, and his road was always ended at a gate. He lived in the rich city as alien as a rat in a rich man’s house that is fed on scraps thrown away, and hides here and there and is never a part of the real life of the house.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1351-1355. Accessed: 10/24/2017
He began to run hurriedly, scarcely knowing what he did, and once he called to another puller whom he knew casually in the day’s work, “Look at this—what is this I pull?” And the man shouted back at him, “A foreigner—a female from America—you are rich—”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1379-1382. Accessed: 10/24/2017
To O-lan this was nothing. If the boy could not be without laughing and play, let them steal to fill their bellies. But Wang Lung, although he had no answer for her, felt his gorge rise at this thievery of his sons, and he did not blame the elder when be was slow at the business. This life in the shadow of the great wall was not the life Wang Lung loved. There was his land waiting for him.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1419-1421. Accessed: 10/24/2017
And through these huts passed children; they were born and dead and born again until neither mother or father knew how many had been born or had died, and scarcely knew even how many were living, thinking of them only as mouths to be fed.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1461-1463. Accessed: 10/24/2017
“There is nothing to sell except the girl,” she answered slowly. Wang Lung’s breath caught. “Now, I would not sell a child!” he said loudly. “I was sold,” she answered very slowly. “I was sold to a great house so that my parents could return to their home.” “And would you sell the child, therefore?” “If it were only I, she would be killed before she was sold… the slave of slaves was I! But a dead girl brings nothing. I would sell this girl for you—to take you back to the land.” “Never would I,” said Wang Lung stoutly, “not though I spent my life in this wilderness.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1491-1497. Accessed: 10/24/2017
Then Wang Lung took his girl child into his arms and he sat with her in the hut and he looked at her and said softly, “Little fool, would you like to go to a great house where there is food and drink and where you may have a whole coat to your body?” Then she smiled, not understanding anything of what he said, and put up her small hand to touch with wonder his staring eyes and he could not bear it and he cried out to the woman, “Tell me, and were you beaten in that great house?” And she answered him flatly and somberly, “Every day was I beaten.” And he cried again, “But was it just with a girdle of cloth or was it with bamboo or rope?” And she answered in the same dead way, “I was beaten with a leather thong which had been halter for one of the mules, and it hung upon the kitchen wall.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1701-1709. Accessed: 10/25/2017
Looking at the blue heaven above him and the white clouds driving across it, feeling upon his ploughed fields as upon his own flesh the sun and rain in proportion, Wang Lung muttered unwillingly, “I must stick a little incense before those two in the small temple. After all, they have power over earth.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1847-1849. Accessed: 10/25/2017
“Now treasure like this one cannot keep. It must be sold and put into safety—into land, for nothing else is safe. If any knew of this we should be dead by the next day and a robber would carry the jewels. They must be put into land this very day or I shall not sleep tonight.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 1868-1870. Accessed: 10/25/2017
“Those!” said Wang Lung, wondering. “I thought they were pictures of dream women, of goddesses in the mountain of Kwen Lwen, such as the story tellers speak of!” “So they are dream women,” rejoined Cuckoo, with mocking good humor, “but dreams such as a little silver will turn into flesh.” And she went on her way, nodding and winking at the servants standing about and motioning to Wang Lung as at one of whom she said, “There is a country bumpkin!” But Wang Lung sat staring at the pictures with a new interest. Up this narrow stairway then, in the rooms above him there were these women in flesh and blood, and men went up to them—other men than he, of course, but men! Well, and if he were not the man he was, a good and working man, a man with a wife and sons, which picture would he, pretending as a child pretends that he might do a certain thing, pretending then, which would he pretend to take? And he looked at every painted face closely and with intensity as though each were real. Before this they had all seemed equally beautiful, before this when there had been no question of choosing. But now there were clearly some more beautiful than others, and out of the score and more he chose three most beautiful, and out of the three he chose again and he chose one most beautiful, a small, slender thing, a body light as a bamboo and a little face as pointed as a kitten’s face, and one hand clasping the stem of a lotus flower in bud, and the hand as delicate as the tendril of a fern uncurled. He stared at her and as he stared a heat like wine poured through his veins.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2239-2251. Accessed: 10/26/2017
NOW IF THE WATERS had at this time receded from Wang Lung’s land, leaving it wet and smoking under the sun, so that in a few days of summer heat it would need to have been ploughed and harrowed and seed put in, Wang Lung might never have gone again to the great tea shop. Or if a child had fallen ill or the old man had reached suddenly to the end of his days, Wang Lung might have been caught up in the new thing and so forgotten the pointed face upon the scroll and the body of the woman slender as a bamboo.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2255-2258. Accessed: 10/26/2017
IF ONE had told him there were small hands like these he would not have believed it, hands so small and bones so fine and fingers so pointed with long nails stained the color of lotus buds, deep and rosy. And if one had told him that there could be feet like these, little feet thrust into pink satin shoes no longer than a man’s middle finger, and swinging childishly over the bed’s edge—if anyone had told him he would not have believed it.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2298-2301. Accessed: 10/26/2017
NOW WANG LUNG became sick with the sickness which is greater than any a man can have. He had suffered under labor in the sun and he had suffered under the dry icy winds of the bitter desert and he had suffered from starvation when the fields would not bear and he had suffered from the despair of laboring without hope upon the streets of a southern city. But under none of these did he suffer as he now did under this slight girl’s hand.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2317-2320. Accessed: 10/26/2017
When she laughed at the braid of his hair, although part of every day he spent in braiding and in brushing it, and said, “Now the men of the south do not have these monkey tails!” he went without a word and had it cut off, although neither by laughter or scorn had anyone been able to persuade him to it before. When O-lan saw what he had done she burst out in terror, “You have cut off your life!” But he shouted at her, “And shall I look an old-fashioned fool forever? All the young men of the city have their hair cut short.” Yet he was afraid in his heart of what he had done, and yet so he would have cut off his life if the girl Lotus had commanded it or desired it, because she had every beauty which had ever come into his mind to desire in a woman.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2343-2349. Accessed: 10/26/2017
But O-lan looked at him in astonishment and did not know what to make from all this, except that one day after staring at him for a long time as they ate rice at noon, she said heavily, “There is that about you which makes me think of one of the lords in the great house.” Wang Lung laughed loudly then and he said, “And am I always to look like a hind when we have enough and to spare?” But in his heart he was greatly pleased and for that day he was more kindly with her than he had been for many days.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2363-2368. Accessed: 10/26/2017
“She reeks of perfume and paint, that one,” she said sti laughing. “Like a regular bad one she smells.” And then she said with a deeper malice, “She is not so young as she looks, my nephew! I will dare to say this, that if she had not been on the edge of an age when men will cease soon to look at her, it is doubtful whether jade in her ears and gold on her fingers and even silk and satin would have tempted her to the house of a farmer, and even a well-to-do farmer.” And then seeing the anger on Wang Lung’s face at this too plain speaking she added hastily, “But beautiful she is and I have never seen another more beautiful and it will be as sweet as the eight-jeweled rice at a feast after your years with the thick-boned slave from the House of Hwang.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2537-2542. Accessed: 10/26/2017
So these two women took their place in his house: Lotus for his toy and his pleasure and to satisfy his delight in beauty and in smallness and in the joy of her pure sex, and O-lan for his woman of work and the mother who had borne his sons and who kept his house and fed him and his father and his children. And it was a pride to Wang Lung in the village that men mentioned with envy the woman in his inner court; it was as though men spoke of a rare jewel or an expensive toy that was useless except that it was sign and symbol of a man who had passed beyond the necessity of caring only to be fed and clothed and could spend his money on joy if he wished.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 2737-2741. Accessed: 10/29/2017
“It is a difficult case. If you do not wish guarantee of recovery, I will ask for fee ten pieces of silver and I will give you a prescription of herbs and a tiger’s heart dried in it and the tooth of a dog, and these boil together and let her drink the broth. But if you wish complete recovery guaranteed, then five hundred pieces of silver.” Now when O-lan heard the words, “five hundred pieces of silver” she came suddenly out of her languor and she said weakly, “No, and my life is not worth so much. A good piece of land can be bought for so much.” Then when Wang Lung heard her say this all his old remorse smote him and he answered her fiercely, “I will have no death in my house and I can pay the silver.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 3247-3253. Accessed: 10/29/2017
THERE WERE times when O-lan woke to herself and to what was about her and once she called for Cuckoo, and when in great astonishment Wang Lung summoned the woman, O-lan raised herself trembling upon her arm, and she said plainly enough, “Well, and you may have lived in the courts of the Old Lord, and you were accounted beautiful, but I have been a man’s wife and I have borne him sons, and you are still a slave.” When Cuckoo would have answered angrily to this, Wang Lung besought her and led her out, saying, “That one does not know what words mean, now.” When he went back into the room, O-lan still leaned her head upon her arms and she said to him, “After I am dead that one nor her mistress neither is to come into my room or touch my things, and if they do, I will send my spirit back for a curse.” Then she fell into her fitful sleep, and her head dropped upon the pillow.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 3310-3318. Accessed: 10/29/2017
Then on the day appointed by the geomancer in the full of the spring of the year Wang Lung called priests from the Taoist temple and they came dressed in their yellow robes and their long hair knotted on their crowns, and he called priests from the Buddhist temples and they came in their long grey robes, their heads shaven and set with the nine sacred scars, and these priests beat drums and chanted the whole night through for the two who were dead. And whenever they stopped their chanting Wang Lung poured silver into their hands and they took breath again and chanted and did not cease until dawn rose.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 3441-3445. Accessed: 10/29/2017
But when the earth was covered over and the graves smoothed, he turned away silently and he sent away the chair and he walked home alone with himself. And out of his heaviness there stood out strangely but one clear thought and it was a pain to him, and it was this, that he wished he had not taken the two pearls from O-lan that day when she was washing his clothes at the pool, and he would never bear to see Lotus put them in her ears again.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 3461-3464. Accessed: 10/29/2017
Now the young man had waited patiently enough for his father’s anger to pass, for he had something to say, and this Wang Lung saw clearly when he shouted, “What would you have me do?” The young man then answered steadily, “I wish we could leave this house and that we could go into the town and live. It is not meet that we go on living in the country like hinds and we could go and we could leave my uncle and his wife and my cousin here and we could live safely in the town behind the gates.” Wang Lung laughed bitterly and shortly when his son said this, and he threw the desire of the young man aside for something worthless and not to be considered. “This is my house,” he said stoutly, seating himself at the table and drawing his pipe toward him from where it stood, “and you may live in it or not. My house and my land it is, and if it were not for the land we should all starve as the others did, and you could not walk about in your dainty robes idle as a scholar. It is the good land that has made you something better than a farmer’s lad.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 3675-3683. Accessed: 10/29/2017
And the lad said suddenly, and his eyes were alight under his brows, “There is to be a war such as we have not heard of—there is to be a revolution and fighting and war such as never was, and our land is to be free!” Wang Lung listened to this in the greatest astonishment he had yet had from his three sons. “Now what all this stuff is, I do not know,” he said wondering. “Our land is free already—all our good land is free. I rent it to whom I will and it brings me silver and good grains and you eat and are clothed and are fed with it, and I do not know what freedom you desire more than you have.” But the boy only muttered bitterly, “You do not understand—you are too old—you understand nothing.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 4333-4340. Accessed: 10/29/2017
Then his son bought a carved coffin hewn from a great log of fragrant wood which is used to bury the dead in and for nothing else because that wood is as lasting as iron, and more lasting than human bones, and Wang Lung was comforted. And he had the coffin brought into his room and he looked at it every day. Then all of a sudden he thought of something and he said, “Well, and I would have it moved out to the earthen house and there I will live out my few days and there I will die.”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 4578-4582. Accessed: 10/29/2017
“It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land,” he said brokenly. “Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land—”
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 4605-4606. Accessed: 10/29/2017
The old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered, “If you sell the land, it is the end.” And his two sons held him, one on either side, each holding his arm, and he held tight in his hand the warm loose earth. And they soothed him and they said over and over, the elder son and the second son, “Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.” But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.
Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth. Kindle Edition. loc. 4606-4611. Accessed: 10/29/2017