The Good Earth
is relentlessly dull. Everything, from the Attempted Rape
of Wang Lung's daughter to O-lan's death
is written with all the emotion of someone who's worked as a grocery store clerk for too long. Terrible things happen throughout, but you won't be roused to care, because it's so emotionless and plodding. The plot isn't so much an attempt at a narrative as an attempt at capturing an entire life of a person in China. This makes for a dull plot that lacks in suspense, and it means there's no true climax to be found. Most of the characters felt like real people, but the only one that's even remotely interesting is O-lan, and she dies two-thirds of the way in.
The writing is also surprisingly bad; the phrase 'Wang Lung hated [x] with an immense hatred' appears more than once, 'it's' is contracted when it shouldn't be, and Buck's sentence structure tends to be run-on and stringy. Thematically, this book is muddled. It can't seem to decide what it wants to say about life in China. Is this a commentary on the misogyny and sexism of the country? Is it about a man finding strength to go on because of his love for the land? Is it a commentary on how wealth and poverty can affect a person? I couldn't tell you, and it seems that neither can Buck.
I can't, for the life of me, fathom why this is such a beloved classic. I understand why it's an important novel - it played a large role in giving westerners a realistic picture of China - but an important novel is not the same as one worthy of literary analysis and study by students. This book deserves neither.