“Confucius doctrine said women weren’t equal to men, because women were unworthy or incapable of a literary education.” (Planetpapers.com)
“the woman with no talent is the one who has merit”(Planerpapers.com))
Generally, the structure of the ancient Chinese society in China is mostly male dominated. Men always look down at women because the structure of the society is patriarchal and stultifying to women as well, as we can see through the two quotes above. In other words, women are often being discriminated and oppressed by men in the Chinese society. They have a low base status in the society and never being treated equally and fairly as how the society treats men.
The author, Pearl S.Buck manages to demonstrate the truth of it by using solid examples of the practice of keeping concubines, foot-binding, female infanticide, the selling and buying daughters in the society, and the rights for a woman to get educations to his reader. In short, the inequality between men and women does exist in the society. The same goes to the female character, O-Lan in the novel of “The Good Earth” too. In “The Good Earth”, Pearl S. Buck clearly demonstrates and portrays the theme of the women oppression in the great ancient Chinese society in China a long time ago to his reader and the Chinese cultures in the society that exists during that time by using the protagonist characters of Wang Lung and O-Lan throughout the smooth flow of the story line in his novel.
First and foremost, Pearl S.Buck uses the protagonist character of O-Lan in order to show to his reader that women have a low base status in the Chinese society. He wishes to let his readers to realize that there are two different roles play by a wife and a concubine during that period of time. In general, a man will marry to a woman just to reproduce sons and help him to extend his family and inherit his wealth.
Well, a wife’s main duty is to do all kind of housechores and bear sons, like what has been done by O-Lan. As clearly mentioned by the author in the earlier chapters, before Wang Lung marries with O-Lan, he is responsible to prepare corn meal as breakfast to his father every morning. But after he gets marry with O-Lan, O-Lan takes over his responsibility and duty to serve his father. After O-Lan is married to Wang Lung, she acts as the marital partner of Wang Lung and a “slave” or housewife who serves in Wang Lung’s family. In fact, she even follows Wang Lung to his land everyday to help him out there without any single mumbling or grumbling.
As we can see from Wang Lung’s father’s words that always advice him to marry to a hardworking woman instead of a beautiful woman so that she will carry out the housechores in their household. Even Wang Lung’s second son also states that he wished to marry with a maid. Perhaps he wants to be served by his wife and helps him to carry out the daily routine and housechores.
After Wang Lung brings O-Lan back from the House of Hwang, he orders O-Lan to cook and prepare meals for his family, as the quotes goes “Here is pork and here beef and fish. There are seven to eat. Can you prepare food?”(Buck, 23)O-Lan replies by saying that she knows how to cook and prepare meals because she is a kitchen slave since her first day entered to the House of Hwang in order to convince him that she is able to carry out the housechores perfectly and completely.
“The woman ……took the bamboo rake and a length of rope and with these she roamed the countryside…returning at noon with enough to cook the dinner. In the afternoon, she took a hoe and with these upon her shoulder …without commanded to do them” (Buck, 29)
As mentioned by the quotes above, O-Lan also helps Wang Lung in the land besides doing housechores everyday. The author describes O-Lan as a strong person because she can adapt to the harsh environment and life and at the end, she manages to overcome it. For example, she is described by the author that she does not need any midwife to give birth to all of her six children.
The Old Mistress from the Great House of Hwang orders O-Lan to carry out her duty by obeying to Wang Lung’s demands and instructions absolutely without any questioning and produce him with a lot of sons, as the quotes goes “Obey him and bear him sons and yet more sons. Bring the first child to me to see” (Buck, 19) If you will give me three silver pieces…I shall make the cloth dealer give me the last inch to the foot.”(Buck, 35) This quote shows that O-Lan even prepares the clothes for Wang Lung’s new born son by using the three pieces of silver money given by Wang Lung to make it. Following this further, O-Lan even tries to beg in order to help her family to overcome their financial problems during the moment at South.
Being totally so different from a wife, a concubine always only acts as a “sex devices” for a man during that time just to fulfill men’s sexual desire. For instance, Lotus Flower and Pearl Blossom is Wang Lung’s concubine. Wang Lung purposely builds another court solely for Lotus Flower so that he can satisfy his sexual desire there.
This clearly shows to us that a wife and a concubine will never be let to live together to avoid any unwanted incident. In short, the role of a concubine is totally different from the roles plays by a wife. O-Lan is a working wife who takes care of her children while Lotus Flower is just to fulfill his master’s sexual desire and pleasure. Hence, we can say that women are always being tortured by their husband to do a lot of torturing and killing works like O-Lan, which can be considered as a form of oppression.
Secondly, Pearl S.Buck wants to show to us that men can possess more than one wife, which also portrays that women are always being discriminated by men. The practice of keeping concubines is so obvious throughout the various characters in the novel, for instance, The Old Master from the Great House of Hwang, Wang Lung and Wang Lung’s son. The author describes that the Old Master from the Great House of Hwang owns a lot of concubines, as mentioned by the quotes “All the money in the world would not tempt me to wake up the old tiger.
He sleeps with his new concubine, Peach Blossom, whom he has had but three days.”(Buck, 56)Besides his “official” wife, the Old Mistress, he also keeps some other concubines, such as Peach Blossom and Cuckoo. The same goes to Wang Lung too. After Wang Lung’s life has been improved and getting richer and richer, he always goes to the teashop which is opened by Cuckoo to meet with Lotus Flower from SooChow as he is attracted by her so much. Soon, Wang Lung is in deep love with her. He is willingly to spend a lot of silvers in order to buy jewels for her.
Since he needs to pay each time just to meet with her in the teashop, he finally plans to buy Lotus Flower from Cuckoo and let her stay with him in his house. So, he builds another court around his house where it is specially designed for Lotus Flower. In the meantime, he demands his auntie to settle this matter for him. At the same time, he commands O-Lan to sweep the floor, wash the clothes, and do all kind of cleaning works and preparations for her which includes moving the new furniture to Lotus’s room. This is because Wang Lung wants to prepare a perfect place for Lotus Flower to live in.
So, he himself and his uncle are in charge for decorating the room for Lotus Flower. After discussed the conditions with Cuckoo, Wang Lung’s auntie informs Wang Lung that Cuckoo demands for one hundred pieces of silver while Lotus Flower requests for some jewels, silks clothes, and shoes as dowry. Wang Lung agrees with the conditions and gives the money to his auntie to help him settle down this matter. In order to pay for the dowry, Wang Lung asks for the two pearls from O-Lan so that he can give it to Lotus Flower. "I have borne you sons-I have borne you sons."(Buck, 209)
As the quote mentioned, O-Lan, who feels that she is oppressed by Wang Lung, is unbearable with what that Wang Lung has done to her and cannot accept the truth undoubtedly that Wang Lung is going to take Lotus Flower as his concubine at first because she has give birth to two sons to Wang Lung. She worries and afraid that she will be neglected and ignored by Wang Lung soon after he owns Lotus Flower. On one day in August, Lotus, accompany by Cuckoo as her serving woman, rides a sedan chair to reach Wang Lung’s house. During her arrival, O-Lan and her children are not around Wang Lung’s house.
Wang Lung arranges Lotus and Cuckoo to live in another court which was newly built near to his house. Wang Lung visits her almost every night just to fulfill his sexual desire. However, Wang Lung is facing some problems because O-Lan and Lotus Flower cannot mix up and tolerate among each other. O-Lan clarifies that she will suffer if she lives with Cuckoo. In order to show her protest to Wang Lung, she purposely refuses to prepare hot water for Lotus Flower and Cuckoo. In order to solve the tautness between O-Lan and Lotus, Wang Lung is forced to build a new kitchen for Lotus Flower and Cuckoo. Wang Lung’s father called Lotus Flower as “prostitute” and this makes Lotus Flower gets angry and upset with him.
Such action indirectly shows that Lotus Flower is oppressed by Wang Lung’s father because she does not have any status in the family like the official wife, O-Lan but just a status less concubine. Another rigid example that shows that women are discriminated is the moment when Lotus Flower pushes away Wang Lung’s daughter when she moves near to her to take her colorful clothes. She even calls Wang Lung’s daughter as “idiots” and claims that she will never tolerate with her to Wang Lung. Her action shows that even women are being oppressed by other women as well and not solely discriminated by men.
Although Wang Lung is quite old already but the author still describes him as still an energetic person, like what is said by the quote “…his blood ran full and hot like the blood of a young man."(Buck, 365)Wang Lung even takes his second concubine, Plum Blossom at his old age after she tells him that she likes him so much, as the quotes goes, "I like old men-I like old men-they are so kind."(Buck, 367)Wang Lung and Plum Blossom’s love have begun and it is being hid secretly. As the saying by Robert Fulghum goes, “Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”(QuotesGarden.com), Wang Lung, as the father has a huge influence and impact on his sons until his sons also behaves like him to take concubine.
Wang Lung gets angry with his eldest son because he always mixed with Lotus Flower, his favourite concubine and beats him up until the bloods come out, as describes by the quote “But this anger now was the anger of one man against another man who steals away the loved woman… “(Buck, 261) "… the girl was very pretty and pale as a plum blossom, and seeing this, something stirred in his old blood that had been quiet these ten years and more."(Buck, 360) The same goes to Wang Lung’s younger son too. Wang Lung’s younger son declares that he wants to marry with Plum Blossom but Wang Lung does not allow it as he wants to keep Plum Blossom for himself. Wang Lung’s younger son goes to join the army as a sign of protestation.
To summarize, men are free to take concubines, as long as they can afford it. The more concubines that a person owns, the more respect he will acquire and gain from the society because it signifies that a man is rich enough and affordable. By analyzing the plot of the novel, we can see that many other men envy and jealous over Wang Lung because he manages to keep his wife and concubines in his house at the same time.
Moreover, the author, Pearl S.Buck is able to successfully convey the message of the oppression of women that occurs in the society by using the example of foot-binding. Basically, a girl who has huge and ugly feet will never obtain a good marriage. For example, as we can see through the main character in this novel, Wang Lung does not really like O-Lan during his first met with O-Lan in the Great House of Hwang.
He blames on her feet which is not small, not bound, not beautiful and it is considered as the ugly feet, as the quotes goes, “He saw with an instant disappointment that her feet were not bound.”(Buck, 18) O-Lan explains to him that her mother does not help her to bind her feet when she is at the young age. But she promises to Wang Lung that she will never let it to happen to her daughters, as explained by the quotes “My mother did not bind them, since I was sold so young. But the girls’ feet I will bind-the younger girl’s feet I will bind.”(Buck, 181)
“Three inches was the ideal size of a woman’s foot during imperial China. If I mistakenly punctured a sore, the blood gushed like a stream. Whenever I ate fish or freshly killed meat, my feet would swell, and pus would drip.“My feet felt on fire and I couldn’t sleep, mother struck me for crying.” In summer, my feet smelled offensively because of pus and blood; in winter, my feet felt cold because of lack of circulation and hurt if they got too near the k’ang and were struck by warm air currents. It took two years to achieve three-inch model.
Women with bound feet could not move about easily and they remained at home most of the time. In imperial China, foot-binding symbolized the lower status of women compared to men. Bound feet showed that a woman belonged to a wealthy family that did not require her to work in the fields or the shop. “Today is the lucky day; if bound today, your feet will never hurt; if bound tomorrow, they will.” The birth of a girl caused little joy because she brought few benefits to the family. When a daughter married, usually in her teens, she moved to her husband’s home and became part of his family. ” (Hawaii Press)
The quotes above shows that people that live in the ancient Chinese society is quite superstitious by believing that by choosing a good day, it will ensure that their daughter’s feet will never get hurt when it is foot-bound, which is totally contradicted to the truth and reality of it. We all know that foot-binding will surely cause great pains and suffers to them. However, due to the oppression of women, it strongly demands for all women must foot-bind their feet so that they are able to obtain a good marriage. The society always prefers a woman with bound feet than a woman without bound feet.
It is described that Wang Lung’s daughter is quite pretty as her feet are bound. O-Lan tells her daughter that not to cry even though the binding is pain and assures her that without bound feet, she will never be loved by her husband in future. As the novel progresses on and on, it clearly states that Wang Lung gets attracted to Lotus Flower also due to her bound feet. He says that her feet are bound, beautiful and small, as the quotes states “That little one- that one …..and she holds lotus bud in her hand”(Buck, 191).
Furthermore, by using the act of killing female infant or infanticide, Pearl S.Buck again manages to shows to us that women have a low base status in the ancient society. Infanticide occurs so rampant and it almost becomes a common issue and trend during that time. In the ancient Chinese society, the birth of a daughter is always not welcomed by any family, which indirectly shows the great discrimination of women during that time. Daughters are always associated to the misfortune, bad luck, and the burden to the family that may bring great harms and disadvantages than benefits to the particular family.
“But I heard it crying-alive-” (Buck, 87)
“Dead, she whispered” (Buck, 86)
“He stooped and examined the handful of its body-a wisp of bone and skin- a girl.”(Buck, 87)
O-Lan informs Wang Lung that his new born child is only a daughter but it is dead already during the drought. Wang Lung seems to suspect about the truth of it. Perhaps, O-Lan purposely kills her newly born daughter because she does not want her to suffer from starvation anymore. Wang Lung takes the dead body and wrapped it with a broken mat and places it on the old grave. He tries to scare away the starving dog at first, but to no avail he fails to do it as he has no more energy left to do so because he is suffering from starvation and drought. Wang Lung buries her daughter’s dead body in an old grave.
Before Wang Lung dies, he even orders Plum Blossom to poison his “poor fool” by using the poison that he has prepared. This also clearly demonstrates that daughters are not welcomed by his family. Luckily, Plum Blossom, who is a kind-hearted woman, refuses to do so but promises to take care of her. Another concrete example that shows that women are discriminated by men is the way howWang Lung calls his eldest daughter. It is another form of oppression to women.
Wang Lung calls her “Little fool-my poor little fool-“(Buck, 170), which shows that he does not like her very much than his son.Wang Lung also declares that his third child is only a daughter and not worth to mention about it, as the quote states “It is over once more. It is only a slave this time-not worth mentioning.”(Buck, 67) Even at the temple, Wang Lung always requests for a grandson rather than a granddaughter from the two earth gods. As we can see, he will curse the earth gods if he does not get a grandson.
Such example indirectly shows that the society is always emphasized on the importance of men than women. In order to thank the town’s goddess for giving him a grandson, Wang Lung buys new robes for them while Wang Lung’s son distributes red eggs to their visitors and respected guests as a form of celebration for his joy of having a son. However, when Wang Lung’s second daughter-in-law gives birth to a daughter, he does not feel as happy and joyful as he is when he is having a grandson.
“When I return to that house it will be with my son in my arms.”(Buck, 34)
“It is a man child! He called triumphantly. “You are grandfather and I am father.” (Buck, 38)
“The red candle was lit and she was lying neatly covered upon the bed. Beside her, wrapped in a pair of his trousers, as the custom was in this part, lay his son.” (Buck, 39)
“Tomorrow I will go into the city and buy a pound of red sugar and stir it into boiling water for you to drink.”(Buck, 39)
“We shall have to buy a good basketful of eggs and dye them all red for the village. Thus everyone will know I have a son.”(Buck, 39)
“…his son, a great, fat, moony-faced child with high cheek bones likes his mother.”(Buck, 44)(Some descriptions about Wang Lung’s first son)
“the child lay beside her-a fat, placid child, well enough, but not so large as the first one.” (Buck, 59) (Some descriptions about Wang Lung’s second son)
“Sons every year; the house was full of good fortune-this woman brought him nothing but good fortune.”(Buck, 59)
When O-Lan gives birth, Wang Lung also hopes that he can have a son rather than a daughter. After O-Lan gives birth to a son, Wang Lung is gay, happy and joyful over it. He even plans to spread this great news to the whole village and let everyone know about it.
With all of the examples clarified above, it vividly portrays to us that the status of a female child is too low and never get any respects from the ancient Chinese society. There are some celebrations for the birth of a son but definitely not a daughter and it shows that a daughter is never being preferred by any family.
In addition, Pearl S.Buck manages to prove to us that women are always being discriminated by men by using the example of selling daughters as well. Wang Lung and his family go south to overcome the drought, they slowly cope with the life in the Kiangsu, which is a city and is totally different from Anhwei, the place where Wang Lung is born. After Wang Lung and O-Lan found that the life in city does not really suit them anymore, therefore, they plan to return to their land. Unfortunately, they do not have enough money to pay for the expenses for their journey back to the land.
Thus, O-Lan suggests Wang Lung that he should sell their daughter so that they can realize their plan to return to the land. At first, Wang Lung does think about it, but after much consideration and thinking, he finally cancels out his plan to do so. This is because he thinks that it is a cruel action and afraid that his little fool may face the same fate as O-Lan. O-Lan comes from North Shantung and she is being sold to the Great House of Hwang at the age of ten by her parents during the famine. She is always being beaten by her owner. Usually, the poor families will sell off their children especially daughters in order to help them to overcome their time of difficulties.
Then, the female children will either become a prostitute or a slave depending on their physical appearance. Since O-Lan is not that beautiful and attractive, so she becomes a kitchen slave in the great house. The practice of buying daughters can be also considered as a form of women discrimination. For example, in the novel, Wang Lung buys another seven daughters from a hungry man just to fulfill Lotus Flower’s demands where all of them are beautiful but very weak after his life has been improved and live in a wealthy and luxurious life. To summarize, the selling and buying of daughters portrays to us that women are always being oppressed by men during ancient Chinese society.
Last but not least, Pearl S.Buck also manages to prove to us that woman who is being treated unequally by the society, does not even have the rights to enter a school and receives any kind of education. We can conclude that the education is only mean to man only and definitely not to woman during that time. After Wang Lung realizes the importance of being literate and educated, he sends his two sons to a school to accept the education.
The headmaster of the school gives another name to Wang Lung’s eldest son “Nung En” and “Nung Wen” to his second son. “Nung” means the wealth of a person is comes directly from the earth. We can see the discrimination that Wang Lung practices in his family when he does not send his daughter to school to study and become an literate person. This clearly shows to us that the women are always been oppressed and denied from attending any educational system.
In conclusion, Pearl S.Buck has successfully portrayed the ugly side of the ancient Chinese society in China which oppresses and discriminates women to his reader throughout the flow of story in his novel “The Good Earth”. Women are always being referred to the second-class humans while men are the first-class humans. He manages to prove it by using concrete examples of the practice of foot-binding, keeping concubines, female infanticide, the rights to get educated, and selling and buying of daughters.
In short, Pearl S.Buck has successfully highlighted the theme of women oppression during the ancient Chinese society in China to his readers throughout the novel “The Good Earth”. As what we have realized and observed, today’s women have been treated equally to men. They do have their own rights to fight for their own education and feminism. After observing the society around us, we may conclude that there are less discrimination and oppression towards women in today’s life compared to the ancient time especially during the ancient Chinese society in China.