The Good Earth is a novel by Pearl S. Buck published in 1931 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1932. The best selling novel in the United States in both 1931 and 1932, it was an influential factor in Buck winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. It is the first book in a trilogy that includes Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935).The novel is about a family of farmers in a Chinese village pre-World War II.


  • Wang Lung
  • O-Lan
  • Eldest Son
  • Middle Son
  • Youngest Son
  • Wang Lung's father
  • The Poor Fool
  • Second Baby Girl
  • Youngest Daughter
  • Eldest Son's Wife
  • Middle Son's Wife
  • Ching
  • Lotus
  • Uncle
  • Uncle's wife
  • Uncle son
  • Pear Blossom


The story begins on Wang Lung's wedding day and follows the rise and fall of his fortunes. The House of Hwang, a family of wealthy landowners, lives in the nearby town, where Wang Lung's future wife, O-Lan, lives as a slave. As the House of Hwang slowly declines due to opium use, frequent spending, and uncontrolled borrowing, Wang Lung, through his own hard work and the skill of his wife, O-Lan, slowly earns enough money to buy land from the Hwang family. O-Lan delivers three sons and two daughters; the first daughter becomes mentally handicapped as a result of severe malnutrition brought on by famine. Her father greatly pities her and calls her "Poor Fool," a name by which she is addressed throughout her life. As soon as the second daughter is born, O-Lan kills her to spare her the misery of growing up in these hard times. During the devastating famine and drought, the family must flee to a large city in the south to find work. Wang Lung's malignant uncle offers to buy his possessions and land, but for significantly less than their value. The family sells everything except the land and the house. Wang Lung then faces the long journey south, contemplating how the family will survive walking, when he discovers that the "firewagon," as the locals call the newly-built train, takes people south for a fee.

While in the city, O-Lan and the children turn to begging while Wang Lung pulls a rickshaw. Wang Lung's father begs but does not earn any money, and sits looking at the city instead. They find themselves aliens among their more metropolitan countrymen who look different and speak in a fast accent. They no longer starve, due to the one-cent charitable meals of rice gruel, but still live in abject poverty. Wang Lung longs to return to his land. When armies approach the city he can only work at night hauling merchandise out of fear of being conscripted. One time, his son brought home meat he had stolen. Furious, Wang Lung throws the meat on the ground; believing that if they kept stealing, his sons would grow up as thieves. O-Lan, however, calmly picks up the meat and begins cooking it again; representing that she preferred health to honesty. When a food riot erupts, Wang Lung unwillingly joins a mob that is looting a rich man's house and corners the man himself, who fears for his life and gives Wang Lung all the money he has in order to buy his safety. Meanwhile, his wife had stolen jewels from another house, hiding them between her breasts.

Wang Lung uses the money to bring the family home, buy a new ox and farm tools, and hire servants to work the land for him. In time, two more children are born, a son and a daughter. Using the jewels O-Lan looted from the house in the southern city, Wang Lung is able to buy the House of Hwang's remaining land. He is eventually able to send his first two sons to school and apprentice the second one as a merchant. As Wang Lung becomes more prosperous, he buys a concubine named Lotus. O-Lan dies, but not before witnessing her first son's wedding. Wang Lung and his family move into town and rent the old House of Hwang. Wang Lung, now an old man, wants peace, but there are always disputes, especially between his first and second sons, and particularly their wives. Wang Lung's third son runs away to become a soldier. At the end of the novel, Wang Lung overhears his sons planning to sell the land and tries to dissuade them. They say that they will do as he wishes, but smile knowingly at each other.