Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
In The Good Earth, Pearl Buck describes the lifestyle and customs of the Chinese through the character of Wang Lung. She also shows the rise of a simple peasant to the enviable position of a wealthy landowner.
At the beginning of the novel, Wang Lung, a poor farmer, is ready to marry O-Lan, a slave who is purchased from the great house of Hwang. She is a sturdy, silent woman who has immense resourcefulness. She is Wang Lung's helpmate throughout the book. Wang Lung and O-Lan, in the span of a few years, have five children.
Wang Lung has always believed that the earth is a wonderful provider. When he manages to save some silver from his farming efforts, he decides to invest it in the good earth. He buys a parcel of land belonging to the House of Hwang. Wang's Uncle, who is lazy and evil, knows of his nephew's success and repeatedly comes to Wang to beg for help and food. It is the Chinese custom to help relatives, so Wang reluctantly aids him. Unfortunately, a famine strikes, and everyone, including the Wang family, suffers. The Uncle spreads the rumor that Wang is hoarding food and money, which causes the famished villages to plunder Wang's house; but they find nothing, for Wang is also starving and unable to provide for the basic needs of his family. As a result, Wang takes his family and flees to the South, where they eke out a living. Wang pulls a rickshaw through the streets to earn money.
During Wang's stay in the South, the first rumbles of the revolution are heard. One day in Kiangsu, the angry peasants break down the gates of a huge mansion and enter it to plunder and pillage its riches. At first, Wang Lung is unable to steal anything; but when he sees the fat Lord clobbering the peasants, he picks up as much gold as he can and leaves.
Wang returns to his homeland with his family. He keeps buying more and more land from the House of Hwang, which has now fallen into decay. As his children grow up, his life begins to prosper. Wang educates his first two sons. The eldest, Nun En, marries a girl from a well-bred family. The second son, Nun Wen, becomes a grain merchant. The third child, a daughter born during the famine, is retarded; Wang loves her dearly and affectionately calls her "poor fool." The last two children are twins. The daughter is married off, and the son, a sullen and silent child, becomes a revolutionary.
Wang Lung tires of O-Lan and brings home a concubine named Lotus; she lives in Wang's house with her slave, Cuckoo. O-Lan is hurt by her husband's actions, but keeps her silence. Slowly, the entire family shifts from their house to the inner courts of the Hwang's house, which now has been vacated. This is an important step in Wang Lung's life since living in the Hwang's house is a boost to his social ego. Wang feels that now he has really moved up in life.
With all his prosperity, happiness seems to evade Wang. There is unrest in his house; O-Lan resents the presence of Lotus and Cuckoo, and the sons, who differ temperamentally, are often at odds. Wang only gets solace from Pear Blossom, who looks after him devotedly without expecting anything in return.
Though Wang lives away from his land in his old age, he still loves the earth dearly and will never let anyone sell it. Yet at the end of the book, his sons think about selling their father's land, which reveals the lack of importance given to the land by the next generation. They have no love of the good earth.