The Value of Education in The Good Earth

February 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

Published in the early years of the Great Depression, Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth brought hope and encouragement to many people struggling economically. The main character, Wang Lung, rises from a Chinese farmer to a landowner and well-respected man with scholarly sons. One symbol in this book is education. This essay discusses the role that education plays in Wang Lung’s ascent from a poor farmer in the country to a rich man living in the House of Hwang in the village. Buck shows that in some places, hard work can be the only ticket to wealth, rather than education and knowledge.The book does not try to show that education is worthless, but rather that it is not necessary if one has motivation and perseverance. There are advantages to being educated as Wang Lung finds out. He was unsure of whether the Lung character in his name referred to “the dragon character Lung or the deaf character Lung”. When he brought grain to market, he, who was a landowner, must ask common clerks to sign his name for him. He pondered, “[N]ot one of those town fools has a foot of land and yet each feels he can laugh a goose cackle at me because I cannot” read and write. “I will take my elder son…and he shall go to a school in the town and he shall learn, and when I go into the grain markets he will read and write for me so that there may be an end of this hissing laughter against me.” Wang Lung never actually learned to read and write, but the knowledge of his sons did contribute to his household’s capability. But in the long run, the good benefits of education were far outweighed by the disadvantages that came from having naïve sons.His sons soon grew haughty with their knowledge, desiring to go fight in wars, spend more and more gold for fine clothes and food, and argue, bicker, and go out with many women. Meanwhile, their father was left in managing the hired men on the land, settling disputes between his sons, and cleverly satisfying the lazy and greedy, family of his uncle. Soon his sons forget all that the land does for them and come to take for granted a copious supply of money. When their father grows near death and can barely hear, the two elder sons discourse about selling the land. “But the old man heard only these words, “sell the land,” and he cried out and he could not keep his voice from breaking and trembling with his anger, “Now, evil, idle sons – sell the land!…Out of the land we came and into it we must go – and if you will hold your land you can live”.” But his sons slyly console him saying they would never sell it, all the while winking at each other behind their father’s back. The old man’s sons have lost their respect and sense of worth for the land. Their education made them haughty, taking money for granted. Indeed, in this culture, it turns out that hard work is the best tool for success.At the beginning of the book, as Wang Lung considers his future wife, he regrets that she is plain, but at least his father cautions, none “will have had their fill of her”. Better to have an ugly virgin who works, than a pretty concubine with bound feet who complains. Wang Lung marries a woman (his first wife) of the former ilk. She fulfills his expectations to the fullest, working in the fields until she goes into labor, and resuming her work when the child is born. So hard does she work that when she dies, “for the first time Wang Lung and his children knew what she had been in the house”: a hard worker, quietly fulfilling each duty. Her void was hard to fill, for “none knew how to light the grass and keep it burning in the oven, and none knew how to turn a fish in the cauldron without breaking it”. Wang Lung though, is no idle rich man either. Even in the midst of great wealth, he goes out to the fields himself to work, supervise, and plan. Through his skillful management, and his and his wife’s hard work, his household rises in wealth and fame until its eventual disintegration – it never explicitly happened, but was made to appear inevitable – when his sons sell off the land that Wang Lung worked so hard building up.Pearl Buck could have made the progress of this Chinese farmer a bit more realistic by implying that almost the contrary –hard work must be coupled with education to bring about an increase in standing and net worth – was true. But what the depression-struck people of the United States wanted to read was the story of someone to whom they could relate nonetheless rose to the top. It is true that hard work is vitally important for success, but in the U.S. it must normally be coupled with education if one is aiming for the stars. The Good Earth remains one of the top books authored during that period. Numerous themes course throughout the book, including the cycle of life, the role of women, and Wang Lung’s unconditional respect for the land. Though the language of the book is easy to understand, the themes of The Good Earth run much deeper, requiring hard work – though not a literary education – to unravel its complex and rewarding meanings.

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