- Adaptation Displacement: The more famous film version was actually based on a stage adaptation that wasn't particularly successful.
- Alternate Character Interpretation:
- Was O-Lan's act of infanticide an act of cruelty? Was it an act of mercy, since alternative was to let the baby die a slow and painful death from starvation? Was it an act of pragmatic calculation, meant to conserve resources for O-Lan's existing family members during the famine?
- When O-Lan binds her daughter's feet, is she blindly obeying social expectations while ignoring her daughter's suffering? Is the foot-binding a well-meaning attempt to help her daughter secure a husband, and therefore find protection and financial security in a patriarchal society? Is O-Lan merely projecting her insecurities about her appearance and marriage onto her daughter?
- Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: The story is a very bleak look at the lives of Chinese farmers. The main characters endure famine, poverty, social unrest, and the threat of bandits. Their home lives are characterized by ingratitude, jealousy, and betrayal. As Wang Lung rises through the ranks, he remains very unsympathetic and treats O-Lan horribly. His relationship with Lotus is sexually charged but ultimately loveless and hollow. None of the supporting characters are that nice either, except for the Poor Fool and Pear Blossom. It's perhaps for this reason that the characters are softened in the film adaptation.
- First Installment Wins: The Good Earth is regarded as a classic, but few are aware that it's the first in an epic trilogy, the rest of which failed to rise to the acclaim and exposure of their predecessor.
- Fridge Brilliance: A lot of characters discuss the high infant morality rate at childbirth, and thus the importance of a woman to bear as many children as possible so at least some of them survive. Yet, all of O-lan's children make it to adulthood (except the daughter she's implied to have strangled at birth during a famine). Why is that? Well, in the early 20th century germs were discovered, as well as the link between doctors and midwives not washing their hands before delivering newborn babies and their high mortality rate. O-lan herself goes against the tradition of having a midwife by bearing her children alone, and cutting their umbilical chords with a clean reed leaf. Thus, none of her children are exposed to potentially deadly germs, and they all lived to adulthood (sans one).
- Fridge Horror:
- Wang Lung's uncle is healthy and active long after Wang Lung's father is sick enough to be confined to bed and even dies. That means he's probably related to Wang Lung's mother, not his father. Say... how big of an age difference would that imply between Wang Lung's father and his mother?
- Wang Lung's father's reference to how "a woman must bear and bear and bear" just to have any hope of surviving offspring. He points out that Wang Lung's mother had so many children ("a score or more") but he can't even remember the actual number. Of all those babies, only Wang Lung survived.
- Insane Troll Logic: A casting example; the leads were all played by white actors in Yellowface to better appeal to American audiences. Anna May Wong wanted the role of O-Lan, but the producers declined because the Hays Code prevented showing mixed-race couples on screen...which wouldn't have been an issue if they cast a Chinese actor to play Wang Lung in the first place like they should have.
- Iron Woobie: O-Lan, who pines for her whole life wanting love from her husband and never getting any. Despite this, she is a good wife and mother, and does the best she can.
- Jerkass Woobie: Lotus, when you think about it. She was sold into a brothel from a young age and has spent her entire life being sexually exploited and valued for her looks. She even becomes Wang Lung's concubine because she knows her looks are starting to fade, and she'll have no prospects otherwise. Still she is a massive Jerkass to everyone.
- Minority Show Ghetto: Filmmakers, and the original author, wanted the adaptation to have nothing but Chinese actors. But this trope was the reason they went with white actors in Yellowface.
- Overshadowed by Controversy: The film is usually mentioned for the scandal involving Anna May Wong not being able to play O-Lan, due to the Hays Code.
- Tear Jerker: The death of O-Lan.
- Tough Act to Follow: After winning her second Oscar for this film, Luise Rainer retired from acting shortly afterwards, knowing she wouldn't be able to top her previous performances.
- Visual Effects of Awesome: The effects that create the locust storm in the film are pretty impressive for a Troubled Production during the late 1930s.
YMMV / The Good Earth