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The Good Earth: the book vs. the movie Essay

The Good Earth, made in 1937, was an interesting portrayal of life in China during these times. Although I think it is a great movie for this era, I had a hard time relating to the film. The advancements in film have made it hard to go back to older movies; things like digital effects and color have really made older movies seem like ancient history. The characters seemed over dramatized and unrealistic. The plot did not stick to the book and seemed to change some of the symbolism the Buck used. The book was much better then the movie and the movie did not do the book justice.

The book is a good representation of Chinese society and shows the independence of each community and the lack of support that the government gives them. The movie did not feature any Chinese actors in the lead roles, but appeared to speak for the Chinese people. Still, the book and movie made Chinese people real for millions of Americans. The Earth is seen through out both the movie and book as a metaphor for the growth of life and culture in China. Loosing touch with the land also meant loosing touch with traditions, morals, and their identities.

By the end of the book the sons no longer realize where they come from and take the land for granted. They have forgotten that the land was their source of wealth and that they are dependent on the land for their future. The land also was very cruel to Wang Lung at times. Everyday he struggled and O-lan struggled besides him. All his life he spent his time in the fields, not until his the end of his life did he get to relax.

The Characters O-Lan and Wang Lung changed throughout the story. Wang Lungs character portrays a man’s unselfishness, determination, and loyalty towards his family and friends. The character in the end desires rich things and spends money frivolously, and turns away from his family and towards pleasures. Although during his younger years the family was his main focus. Wang Lung is not “free” as a male to do what he wants; he serves his father and his uncle and it his responsibility to also take care of the community because of his good fortune. Wang Lung is just such a person, the impassive farmer happily bound to the eternal Good Earth. The family system oppresses but also supports O-lan with the values, which explain, and support her life.

I felt that the feminist symbolism was very small. There were many ideas that I thought went against western ideas. Making it harder for Americans to relate too. We saw child-selling, wife-buying, foot-binding and self-sacrifice to the point of starvation. Americans remember O-lan giving birth and immediately picking up her hoe to go back to the fields. O-lan is a strong, competent person, essential to the household economy, who achieves many of her ambitions; she is betrayed (but not broken) as much by her husband’s weak character as by social attitudes. The book raises fruitful questions about the Chinese farm economy, family, and the status of women. While the movie shows her standing by and watching her surroundings, not reacting to anything.

While Wang reacts to everything and blames everyone but himself for his troubles, he shows the characteristics the O-lan lacks. He blames the weather and the gods for the lack of rain. He fulfils the ideas that westerns have of peasants. The American audience reads a novel about “peasants,” a word that does not exist in the Chinese language but is actually translated as farmer. Feudal Europe had “peasants,” Republican America had “farmers,” but China was an exception, neither Old World nor New, with a motionless history, populated by “farmers.” Wang Lung works fiercely hard, but is helpless against nature–locusts and drought. When famine drives the family into the city, O-lan, who had been a slave in rich folks’ houses, uses her knowledge to find hidden jewels and save the farm. Salvation comes through luck, not Christianity, and certainly not through class struggle.

Wang Lung doesn’t suffer from “poverty,” it’s just that he doesn’t have any money; his problems are individual, not social, running more to locusts and evil uncles than feudalism. The only foreigners in the book are naive fools. When an evangelist displays a picture of a figure on the cross, Wang Lung wonders what this criminal must have done to deserve such a punishment; he takes the evangelist’s pamphlet and gives it to his wife to make shoes. This part of the book was overlooked in the movie. It shows the great naive lifestyle of the lower classes in China and the verge of change coming to China.

Although the book and movie had the same basic plot they were divided on the ideas of the Chinese people and their influence on the American public. The Chinese people were shown in two very different ways. The ideas of the Chinese people were misconstrued and the ordeals seem lighter then the actual turmoil O-lan and Wang Lung endured. The movie was a an easier path and less struggle for the Chinese people as a whole but made it easier for the Americans to sympathize with.


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