This historical fiction, contemporary classic by Pearl S. Buck is published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.
Set in early 20th-century China, this is the story of Wang Lung, a working class farmer, his arranged marriage to O-Lan, and the trials they endure as years of drought devastate their family farm. With themes of respect and care for elder members of the traditional Chinese household, the family grows exponentially as children are born and Wang Lung takes in his aging father, his uncle and the uncle's family, straining already limited finances. The situation improves dramatically, though, as Wang Lung enjoys good crops and cobbles together an expanse of land, one small parcel at a time during prosperous years.
Meanwhile, with his marriage devoid of love and his newfound financial success, Wang Lung becomes restless and wants whatever his money may buy. He frequents a teahouse for prostitutes, eventually buying a concubine who moves into his house, further complicating already strained family relationships. While Wang Lung raises sons who become successful in their own right, and daughters who are married off in lucrative transactions, this younger generation continues to make decisions just as their father has. Perhaps the most telling moment occurs right at the end of the book as Wang Lung nears death. Although his sons assure him they will not sell the land that has bound their family together and brought success, they smile knowingly over their father's head.
In a culture where age is honored, Wang Lung cares for his elderly father until death. In addition, as it is a parent's task to plan children's lives and marriages, Wang Lung negotiates with other villagers to marry off his children. Although he has remained quite distant and uninvolved in his sons' upbringing, he determines their future career paths.
Other Belief Systems
Traditional Chinese religions including Buddhism and Confucianism
Refers to a female as a b---h
Numerous references to sex outside the boundaries of marriage in a culture with sex slaves and mistresses as the norm.
Pulitzer Prize 1932
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- A major theme in Wang Lung's story is his obsession with money and his land.
What would the Bible say about his life?
- In what ways do the decisions he makes contrast with those of a modern-day Christian?
- Would you say that Wang Lung's life was well lived?
- What is the true measure of a man's success?
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