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The Good Earth
The Good Earth
THE GOOD EARTH, by Pearl S. Buck
Pearl S. Buck's THE GOOD EARTH (1931) was not only one of the great commercial and critical successes of its time, it was largely responsible for making Buck the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1938. Its depiction of life among China's peasant class during the waning days of imperial rule combines realistic detail with high drama -- both educational and exciting, it also reflected many of the concerns of its contemporary American readership, beleaguered by the Great Depression. Buck, the child of missionaries, had lived for almost four decades in China, and much of the novel is rooted in her observations as an outsider who nonetheless was fluent in her adoptive country's tongue even before she mastered English. The story opens with the marriage of Wang Lung, a farmer, to O-Lan, a former slave of the noble House of Hwang. They struggle against flood and famine and grinding poverty, slowly rising over the years to a position of prosperity and respect, even as the House of Hwang declines. Its tale of perseverance and ultimate triumph over adversity has given THE GOOD EARTH something of a reputation as a soothing fable, but it is more challenging than that. The characters Buck draws face a series of moral and ethical tests -- some of which are passed only by luck, others of which are failed in deference to survival itself.

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The American Novel