Wednesday, February 23

The Good Earth

Someone asked me recently if I like reading. I told her that I am not a good reader but if I have time, I do enjoy reading if the book is well written or is about something that interests me. But try and find a book about dragons that is poorly written, I dare you.

A lot of the things Ma has had me read lately I have not enjoyed even though they were well written, because they were about things that nobody enjoys. Things like Russian work camps. Stuff that sends chills up your spine. And so as I picked up The Good Earth, I was cautious and did not expect to enjoy it. But I dove right in anyway.

It didn't take long for me to recognize the story. I had not finished the first chapter before I knew the basic plot. The man gets married, treats his wife like crap, his wife is still loyal, he becomes wealthy and falls in love with a young woman and marries her, the first wife dies, young chick gets the first wife's pearl earrings. You can even ask Lynae if I didn't tell her all those things would happen.

I don't know how long ago it was, but I knew I had seen a movie of this story sometime a very long time ago. I remembered the young man at the beginning of the story was getting married that day, and he was so excited that he was even going to wash his whole body. I think I was eight or possibly younger when I saw it. But I remembered it.

The book is believable, and could very easily be a true story. It is about humans who act and think like humans. Nobody reads it and wishes they had a similar life to any of the characters, but I think everyone sees a little of themselves in it if they are honest.

The first part of the book is enjoyable. The young family is poor and they work very hard, O-lan working in the fields with her husband until she must take a break for a few hours to give birth, and then coming back out to help him for the rest of the day. Wang Lung treats his wife fairly and he trusts her. We also see that he is honest, when even though they haven't eaten meat in months he refuses to eat meat that his son stole.

The high point of the story is brief. Wang Lung acquires a bag of silver and his wife finds a handful of jewels, which allows them to purchase three hundred acres of the finest rice fields and makes them wealthy. But a bad year comes and Wang Lung, having nothing to do but wait, goes into town and spends his time with another woman. Over and over again he tells himself that because he owns so much land and has so much money, it is okay for him to spend time with other women besides his wife, because everyone who has as much land or money as he does so. And then he tells himself that it's okay for him to marry this woman because everyone with as much land or money as he has does so.

That's where the story starts heading to its low point. Wang Lung keeps getting richer and buying things that should make him happy, but they don't help. Anything he buys is like a band aid. He sends his sons to school, but the oldest son skips school and gets into mischief with his cousin, and his youngest son won't be content until he becomes a soldier. His middle son is thrifty and brings him joy, but even he fails his father by the end of the story, ignoring his father's counsel to not sell the land. As he gets older, Wang Lung realizes that everything is backwards. His daughters make him happier than his sons, and of them all the one that brings him the most joy is retarded. The book doesn't really say what the child's problem was, but she is always referred to as the "poor fool" who couldn't speak or understand anything that was happening. The young new wife is constantly demanding things, and by the end of the story he goes out of his way to annoy her.

The story closes with Wang Lung leaving his palace to live in his old earthen hut, and to be near the land where he was born and where he was content with O-lan. "Out of the land we came, and into it we must go," he says, reminding us of Genesis 3:19, "For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

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