Pearl Buck's style in The Good Earth has been compared to old Chinese
novels. Actually, it is a simple, direct narrative style. There are no
complicated techniques such as cut-back or stream of consciousness. The
narrative moves along smoothly towards its conclusion. By the same token there
are no complicated subplots or subthemes. Wang Lung is the central character;
the actions of all the other characters relate directly to him. No one in the
story performs any action which is independent of the main action.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the style of Pearl Buck in The Good
Earth is the manner in which her characters perform. No matter what any one
of them does, it is always in keeping with his personality. Nevertheless,
none of them can be described as stereotypes; their motivations are too
complex. In O-lan, the reader sees a person who is fundamentally good. Yet
she does some seemingly wicked things. She steals the jewels from the rich
man's house. Worse than this, she kills her own child. But both of these
actions are consistent with her character and the context of the situations
she is involved in.
Much has been written about Pearl Buck's style of writing in The Good Earth. One critic calls it "almost Biblical," while others compare it to ancient folk epics. Another critic describes it as a mixture of the King James Version of the Bible and a traditional Chinese epic.
A writer's style can't always be traced to the influences of his or her childhood reading, but in Pearl Buck's case the two influences mentioned above did exist. As the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, Buck was brought up on the Bible. And although she read widely in English literature, she also read Chinese novels.
As Buck herself explained, Chinese novels were written for a wide popular audience. They developed from the tales that professional...