The Good Earth Point of View

The Good Earth Point of View

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The Good Earth Point of View



The Good Earth is a third-person narrative, but the story it tells is Wang Lung's. Everything that happens is described as he experiences it and as it affects him. The narrator explains Wang Lung's thoughts and feelings but almost never those of other characters. You understand them through their words and actions.


This is obviously a rather limiting way of telling a story. In staying strictly within Wang Lung's experience, the narrator can't be all-knowing. You might think that the novel could have been written in the first person, with Wang Lung as the "I." But this hero is an uneducated, indeed an illiterate farmer, and if the story were told in his words the novel would be limited not only to his experiences but to his vocabulary. In using the third-person form the narrator has somewhat more scope.


Yet the scope is quite limited. For example, when O-lan brings a bowl of tea to her husband on the first morning of their marriage, you know that she is afraid of him only because he sees the fear in her expression. Later you see that O-lan comes to trust her husband from the way that she goes about her work, taking her full share of the toil as an equal partner, and also from the way she offers advice to Wang Lung on the rare occasions when a crisis moves her to break her customary silence.


Just as the characters are described only as they affect Wang Lung, every event is told only as it relates to him. Drought, flood, locusts--all are part of the story only as they affect Wang Lung. Wars are fought all over China and robber bands plunder and murder in the villages, but we learn of these dire events only as Wang Lung does. His uncle turns out to be a member of a notorious band of brigands. He learns that a robber band raided the House of Hwang during the famine. His cousin brings a band of soldiers into his house. He learns that his third son has become a high official in the "revolution.

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The narrator does not explain aspects of Chinese life that would be outside of Wang Lung's knowledge or comprehension, even though they might be interesting to a European or American reader. The novel pursues an unswerving story line, faithfully following the experience of the central character. Wouldn't you think that this would be too narrow a point of view to be interesting? Would you expect one simple Chinese peasant's life in a remote country village to make an absorbing, suspenseful story?
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