Is Pearl Buck's novel linear or cyclical? Where are examples of both types of time? Consider, for example, the migration to and from the land, the birth and decay of families, the recurrence of famine, changes from generation to generation, etc. How are the human cycles in the novel thematically linked with natural cycles of seasons and harvests?
Consider the following conversation between Wang Lung and his eldest son:
"Well, and even great families are from the land and rooted in the land."
But the young man answered smartly,
"Yes, but they do not stay there. They branch forth and bear flowers and fruits."
Wang Lung would not have his son answering him too easily and quickly like this so he said,
"I have said what I have said. Have done with pouring out silver. And roots, if they are to bear fruits, must be kept well in the soil of the land." (310)
How do you see the differing views on the land between these characters playing out in the novel?
Compare and contrast the female characters of the novel: O-lan, Lotus, Cuckoo, Pear Blossom, the uncle's wife, the two son's wives. What parallels can be drawn between them? How do they contrast with one other? Does Pearl Buck individualize her female characters, or do they simply stand for abstractions like "hard-work," "motherhood," "beauty," "innocence," etc.?
What is the role of tradition in The Good Earth? Think of the way that Wang Lung relates to his father and uncle, about Wang Lung's hairstyle, about the constant return to the land. Is tradition challenged throughout the text? If so, by whom and in what instances?
How do you think that Pearl S. Buck's status as a foreigner affects/alters her novel? Does it discredit her work? Does it enhance her sensitivity? Think of other works written by "outsiders" to the culture they are writing about, for example Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha.
In the context of the novel, what is your interpretation of the following quote?
"When the rich are too rich there are ways, and when the poor are too poor there are ways." (118)
Keep in mind that this quote appears (slightly altered) on two occasions: once when Wang Lung is in the south, and once after Wang Lung's eldest son evicts the poor tenants out of the outer rooms of the House of Hwang.
What is the role of beauty in this novel? Is it feminine, natural, masculine, class-based? Compare several characters who are described as beautiful -- e.g. Pear Blossom, Lotus, Wang Lung's third son, Wang Lung's second daughter -- and compare the ways in which Buck describes their beauty.
Think of the topic of fate and destiny. There are various instances in the novel in which the gods are viewed as central to the fate of man. They are entrusted to care for the land and harvest. How is this belief challenged in the novel? How does Wang Lung's relationship to the gods change throughout the novel, and why does it change?
Perform a close analysis of the episodes with the pearls between O-lan and Wang Lung. What do you think these pearls symbolize for O-lan? How does Wang Lung understand O-lan's desire to keep them? Why does he take them away, and why does he feel regret for having done so after O-lan's death?
Explore Wang Lung's relationship with his sons. How well do they know one another? What main characteristic does each one of them exhibit? What is their tie to the land, if any? Also, how does their childhood and upbringing differ from that of Wang Lung and his father? How do differences of upbringing affect the sons' characters?
Think of the House of Hwang that is presented at the beginning of the novel. How is it described? What happens as the novel progresses? Why? Then think of Wang Lung's budding family? What parallels can you draw with the Hwang family? What differences, if any, exist between the House of Hwang and Wang Lung's family at the end of the novel?