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TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
• ON THE NOVEL
1. The Good Earth has been described as an epic. How would you define this term, and how does the novel qualify for the definition?
2. One of Pearl Buck's achievements was a translation of a Chinese novel, All Men Are Brothers. She also wrote on the Chinese novel as a popular literary form aiming purely to entertain. Do you think The Good Earth, her most important work, is modeled on the Chinese novel and aims purely to entertain? What do you think the author's aim is in this novel? Support your views with examples.
3. The most severe critics of The Good Earth were Chinese intellectuals, many of them emigrants living abroad. They seemed to be embarrassed by the novel's picture of life in China and less acquainted with the farm population and the poor than was Pearl Buck. Do you agree with these critics that the novel gives an unflattering picture of the Chinese people? Make a case for or against such a claim.
4. Pearl Buck says of the neighbors who raid Wang Lung's house during the famine that "they were not bad people except when they were starving." Discuss right and wrong, as illustrated by the way Wang Lung lived his life.
5. The rise of Wang Lung's fortunes and the decline of the House of Hwang are treated as parallels in The Good Earth. Explain this, and discuss what you feel is the author's message in setting up this parallel.
6. During the famine you see that while the people of one region are starving, a city only one hundred miles away has an abundance of food. What were the causes of this unequal distribution of the necessities of life?
7. Echoes sound in the novel of armies marching, battles being fought, robber bands roving the countryside. How are Wang Lung and his family affected by these events? Give some background on what is happening in China during this period.
• ON CHINESE TRADITIONS
1. Describe the traditional obligation to the elderly and its effects on Wang Lung in the novel.
2. Discuss the status of women as illustrated in the novel. Do you see any exceptions to the rule of women's inferiority?
3. Discuss the practice of foot-binding, in the novel and in Chinese tradition, and the relationship of this custom to women's status.
4. What is the place of religion in Wang Lung's life? Where does he place his deepest religious belief? Sketch the peculiarly Chinese blend of religions during the period of the novel.
5. Discuss the difference in relationships of a father with his sons and with his daughters, as seen in the novel.
6. The traditional roles of wife and concubine are contrasted in The Good Earth. Discuss these roles in terms of the women in the novel.
• LITERARY TOPICS
1. Critics have praised Pearl Buck for her drawing of character. Write about any of her characters, contrasting O-lan and Lotus, for example, or Wang's father and the uncle, or Wang's three sons.
2. Describe Wang Lung's character in terms of his strengths, weaknesses, and virtues. Do you note any inconsistencies?
3. Wang Lung's bitterest disappointment is that not one of his three sons cares anything for the land. Discuss his love of the land and why he can't pass on this attachment to his sons.
4. Pearl Buck's writing style in the novel was said to be almost Biblical. Do you agree? Have you a different description of her style? Explain, with examples.
5. Wang Lung's hesitations on the way to the House of Hwang to claim his bride have been described as comic. Are there other moments in the novel that you would consider comic? Can you compare the quality of such comedy with another famous style that combines comedy with pathos?
6. The relationship of Wang with his uncle, the uncle's wife, and the uncle's son is crucial at certain points in the novel. Analyze this relationship, and the ways Wang deals with it.
• SOCIAL COMMENT
1. Why does the Hwang family fail, and how is Wang Lung's family similarly doomed? Discuss the question of landed wealth. Can you make a comparison between China's farm society as shown in this novel, and other farm-based cultures?
2. Pearl Buck gives a detailed picture of the city and its contrast between rich and poor. Discuss this contrast and its implications for political change.
3. An aspect of Chinese architecture is the way additions are made to a house as the household grows and needs more space: for example, how Wang Lung provides an "apartment" for Lotus Flower. Describe the structure and its advantages for an extended family.
4. As Wang Lung prospers, he changes his style of life and dress. Beginning with cutting off his queue, describe the step-by-step changes in Wang Lung from his first visit to Lotus Flower in the House of Flowers.