The Good Earth

How would you describe the book "The Good Earth"?

In your own opinion, how would you describe the book relating to the constant struggles between the wealthy and the poor in society.

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Throughout The Good Earth, we see repeated instances of what might be called "mass consciousness." Characters regularly think of themselves in terms of a group or a movement. They follow traditions and feel part of a group identity -- like "farmers" -- or, more radically, they actively join mass movements to affect people's consciousness, which we see in the case of the revolution.

At the beginning of the book, both Wang Lung and O-lan are very sure of their roles within society. They fulfill these roles very well indeed; Wang Lung works the fields while O-lan keeps the house. Theirs are the ways of generation after generation, and they are thus linked up to traditional patterns of life that comprise enormous numbers of people.

Meanwhile, other instances of mass consciousness in the novel run counter to these traditional forms of life. The revolutionaries and missionaries in the novel seek to disrupt past hierarchies and religious ways. They too work en masse, sweeping the discontented and disillusioned into their numbers. Wang Lung, who is so deeply connected to the traditional ways, cannot understand these multitudes.

Yet even Wang Lung is carried away by the most violent form of mass consciousness in the novel: the mob. While living in the south, he joins the mob that raids a Great House, even though he does not necessarily agree with the tenets of the revolutionaries. A greater "mind" than the individual seems to take him up, a group force -- and not a force of good -- that has a mind of its own. Similarly, Wang Lung's uncle incites the starving villagers near the beginning of the novel to mob Wang Lung's farm. Though the villagers have nothing against Wang Lung personally, their hunger and discontent breeds a mob mentality that few people seem able to resist.

Nature, too, works in mobs. The plague of locusts that devastates the fields is thematically linked to the riotous peoples of the novel. Wang Lung, who knows the ways of the earth, is able to stave off the brunt of the locusts' damage, but future generations may not bode so well against such forms of natural mass consciousness. Nor will they be able to hold off human mobs. Indeed, when Wang Lung's eldest son forces the poor to leave the House of Hwang, the poor grumble that they will return "when the rich grow too rich." Only by understanding the land can one understand the cyclical nature of the mob, and the newer generation has grown out-of-touch with the earth.