Pearl S. Buck – A Modern Day Hero Introduction A friend of mine gave me a copy of The Good Earth as a birthday gift. Until then, I had never heard of the literary masterpiece or the author, Pearl S. Buck. The story captivated me. I found myself engrossed in the story of the poor farmer Wang Lung whose love for his land allowed him to overcome many odds including famine, flood and a revolution.
Through hard work and dedication, Wang Lung became one of the wealthiest landowners in the Anweih province of China. Sadly, Wang Lung’s two sons did not share his passion for “the good earth” and cared only for their bequest. Wang Lung was still on his death bed when the two sons decided that as soon as their father died, they would sell the land and split their inheritance (Buck, P. S. , 1931).
The Good Earth instantly became one of my favorite books and Pearl S.
Buck, one of my favorite authors. Peter Conn wrote the introduction of the book in the form of a short biography of the author. I usually do not read the introduction s until after I read the story because I never want other people’s review to influence my own opinion of the book. So, I saved the introductory pages for last. It wasn’t until I read of Pearl S. Buck’s memoirs that I began to truly admire her, not only for her writing but for her humanitarian and altruistic contributions.
Who is Pearl S. Buck? Pearl Sydenstricker was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892. Her missionary parents, Absalom and Carrie Sydenstricker brought her to China when she was three months old. By the time she was four, she spoke and wrote Chinese as well as English (Conn, NDA).
Reflections on Finding Inner Strength through Good Stories I think inner strength is deeply connected with character. It is essential to have strong and value-based character in order to be capable of finding inner strength even in simple stories, through seen analogue between things happening in a story and your life. When you see these analogues, you can foresee the sequence of events in the ...
She was at first educated by her mother and tutored by a Chinese Confucian Scholar (Author’s Calendar, 2002).
While her parents carried out their Christian mission all over the Chinkiang province of China, Pearl was left under the care of her “amah” or governess. It was her amah that fascinated her with Chinese folklore’s and mythical tales of ancient magic, fairies and dragons (Conn, NDA).
Growing up, Pearl spent hours wandering the streets of Chinkiang observing how the people lived. She became familiar with their rituals, practices, and traditions. Her first hand experience with the Chinese culture led her to write many novels, including her most critically acclaimed book, The Good Earth.
Her intimate knowledge of the Chinese culture was evident in the way she wrote. In the novel, Pearl gave detailed account of Chinese traditions such as the making of moon cakes during New Year celebrations and wearing of white robes at funerals. She also described how ordinary Chinese people lived. She wrote about women sewing shoes out of layers of paper, water carriers running to and fro, and of men transporting passengers throughout the city on a ricks ha (Conn, NDA).
A ricks ha is a two-wheeled chair transport, usually born on the shoulders by the men who pulled them (Merriam-Webster, NDA).
The Boxer Rebellion happened in 1900 when Chinese nationalists started an uprising in order to drive out Western intruders. They attacked Western settlements, killing men, women, and children. For safety, the Sydenstrickers evacuated to Shanghai and from there, sailed to San Francisco. This was Pearl’s first time returning to the United States since she was a baby (Conn, NDA).
In 1902, the Sydenstrickers returned to China to continue their mission. At the age of seventeen, Pearl was enrolled at Miss Jewel’s, a distinguished English boarding school in Shanghai, then the largest city in Asia.
She moved back to Virginia in 1910 where she attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg to study Psychology. After her graduation, Pearl returned to China in 1914 when her mother became seriously ill. There, she started her career as an English teacher for the Presbyterian Board of Missions (Conn, NDA).
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. She was born while her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were on a leave from their mission in China. She was the fourth child in her family and was one of only three of the Sydenstrickers children who reached adulthood (Conn 1). After three months in the United States, Buck returned to China with her ...
During a summer retreat for missionary workers at Kling in the Nanking province, Pearl met John Losing Buck, a Cornell graduate and expert in agriculture.
They married in 1917. Pearl became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter whom she named Carol. Shortly after she gave birth however, Pearl’s doctors discovered a uterine tumor that needed to be removed. Pearl underwent hysterectomy which left her sterile (Author’s Calendar, 2002).
At the age of four, Carol exhibited signs of abnormality. The Bucks returned to the United States to seek medical care for their daughter. The doctors then confirmed that Carol was mentally retarded. In order to better cope with Carol’s problem, Pearl enrolled in graduate school.
She received her Masters degree in Psychology from Cornell in 1926 (Doyle, 2000).
Because of personal differences, and the strain of Pearl’s sterility, John and Pearl separated in the 1920’s, although she did not file for divorce until many years later. (Author’s Calendar, 2005).
It was after her divorce that Pearl started to write. She needed to make a living so she could take care of Carol’s specialized care. Her first novel was East Wind, West Wind.
It was released in 1930 by the John Day Company, a small publishing firm in New York. The Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Good Earth published in 1931, was Pearl’s second book. The book sold millions of copies and was adapted as a motion picture by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. Luise River who played O-Lan, Wang Lu’s faithful and devoted slave wife, won the 1937 Academy Award for Best Actress (Conn, NDA).
In 1935, Pearl divorced John and within the same year, married her publisher, Richard Walsh. They settled in Green Hills Farm, and through adoption, built a large family together. After World War II, Pearl began her contributions to various political and humanitarian causes with Richard along her side. Richard Walsh died following a stroke in 1960. In 1963, when she was in her seventies, Pearl married Theodore Harris, a 32-year old dance instructor from the Arthur Murry Dancing Studio. She lived with him at Green Hills Farm until her death at the age of eighty-one in 1973.
Socialization American Born Chinese Children under Chinese Culture According to the American Heritage Dictionary, socialization is "the process of learning interpersonal and interaction al skills that are in conformity with the values of one's society" (American Heritage). It is a process of learning culture. During socialization, children will acquire attitudes, norms, values, behaviors, ...
Pearl published over eighty books in her lifetime (Doyle, 2000).
Her Contributions Changing the World View of China Pearl S. Buck was instrumental in changing the world view of China and the perception of Asians in general. Before the release of The Good Earth in 1931, people had a very limited and distorted view of Chinese and Asians alike. Very few Americans have been to China or to any Asian country.
The derogatory term “Oriental” was coined during this period and soon thereafter, the same label was used to refer to any other person from the Far East, regardless of their country of origin. Asians were also stereotyped as “dishonest, cruel and inscrutable” people who were addicted to opium and who delighted in torture. Then popular Anti-Chinese caricatures such as “Fu Manchu” and the “Heathen Chinese” exhibited contempt for the Chinese people whom Americans misunderstood to be villainous and immoral (Conn, NDA).
In The Good Earth, Pearl characterized the Chinese subjects of her novel as ordinary, hardworking citizens who share similar fears, desires, dreams, and struggles as everyone else.
In doing so, she erased the stigma of cultural unfamiliarity and gave the West a better understanding of what China and its people were truly like (Conn, NDA).
Bertie Lindblad, Director of the Stockholm Observatory where the 1969 Nobel Prize Banquet was held, praised Pearl S. Buck for advancing “the understanding and the appreciation in the Western world of a great and important part of mankind, the people of China.” Lindblad also recognized her for understanding and realizing the importance of multiculturalism (Franz, 1969).
While living with Walsh in Virginia, the couple established the East and West Association, an advocacy group that promoted tolerance and mutual understanding between Asians and Americans (Author’s Calendar, 2002).
The Chinese Exclusion Acts The first Chinese immigrants came to the United States in the 1820’s following the imperial revolution that put an end to the Ch ” ing Dynasty.
Many of the immigrants came from war ridden Manchu region of China. They were farmers and laborers who hoped to strike it rich during the California gold rush. Initially, Chinese immigrants were welcomed to the United States because the workforce was limited and cheap labor was needed for gold mining and for the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad (Asian Americans, 2005).
The Lost Ones – Young Chinese Americans Due to harsh immigration laws, in American history, Chinese have often relied on illegal means of entering the United States. For example, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chinese Exclusion Act, Documents on Anti-Chinese Immigration Policy.) was passed, the first and only act that restricted immigration from one particular ethnicity. This act ...
The Chinese became the subject of racism in the country. Several factors contributed to the hostility and discrimination against the Chinese: 1) after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the mostly white labor force found themselves in competition with many unemployed Chinese rail workers; 2) the United States attempted to replace freed black slaves with Chinese laborers at many southern plantations; and 3) the depression of 1873. All of these were attributed to the increased immigration of Chinese workers (Asian Americans, 2005).
In response to increasing Anti-Chinese sentiments and pressure from labor and union leaders, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Acts in 1882. The Act prevented further immigration of Chinese workers. It disallowed the Chinese from acquiring American citizenship through naturalization procedures that were available for immigrants of other races. It also required non-citizens to pay higher taxes (Asian Americans, 2005).
Because she spent a significant part of her life in China, Pearl was compassionate towards the Chinese people.
She became indignant about the unjust treatment of Chinese immigrants. Through her writing and political activism, she fought for Chinese immigrant rights and with the help of Walsh, led a nationwide campaign to abolish the Chinese Exclusion Acts. In 1943, after China worked alongside the United States in defeating Japan during World War II, the Congress abolished the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Chinese immigrants were then granted the right to become naturalized citizens (Asian Americans, 2005).
Although the Exclusion Act was abolished out of national embarrassment, Pearl’s efforts were not in vain. Her activism and her writing made people aware of the need for racial equality and pluralism (Buck, Pearl S.
The Civil Rights Movement Pearl was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She committed to promoting fairness, equality, and tolerance for all cultures. She believed racism of any form towards any race to be wrong and fought relentlessly to end prejudice against African-Americans and Asian-Americans. She published many articles criticizing the nation’s hypocrisy by pointing out that America’s democracy was tainted by racial discrimination. She also lobbied President Roosevelt to sign the Anti-lynching bill (Conn, NDA).
Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were Southern Presbyterian missionaries, and were stationed in China. Pearl was the fourth of seven children (and 1 of only 3 who would live until adulthood). Buck was born in the U.S. so she could be a natural U.S. citizen. The Sydenstrickers lived in Chinkiang ( ...
In 1945, she published The Townsman, a novel about a black family living in a predominantly white community. This was her attempt to “address America’s racial prejudices.” She claimed that racism was even more “retrograde and destructive than the nation’s obsolete attitude towards women” (Conn, NDA).
Pearl also co-authored American Argument, another highly controversial book addressing racism. Since the 1930’s, Pearl was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League.
She wrote many articles for Crisis and Opportunity, two of the most prominent Civil Rights publications during the period (Spencer, 2002).
In 1942, at a Civil Rights rally in New York City, NAACP executive secretary Walter White credited Pearl S. Buck to be one of the only two white Americans who “understood the reality of black life.” The other person was Pearl’s good friend, Eleanor Roosevelt (Conn, NDA).
The NAACP honored Pearl with a certificate of life membership and awarded her the position of trustee of Howard University (PSBI Website, NDA).
Advocating for the Mentally Retarded Pearl’s unconditional love for her daughter inspired her to become an advocate for the care of mentally retarded children. In 1950, she wrote a book called The Child Who Never Grew as a tribute to her daughter Carol. It was said that the book inspired Rose Kennedy to talk publicly about her own mentally retarded daughter, Kathleen. Many claim that this helped changed America’s attitude towards mental retardation.
Pearl remained committed to this cause and continued to support many state and local organizations that are dedicated to the same cause through her lifetime (Conn, NDA).
Pearl S. Buck International The increasing number of “Amerasian” children who needed foster homes after World War II caught the attention of Pearl S. Buck. She coined the term “Amerasian” to refer to mixed-race children who had American fathers (usually military servicemen) and Asian mothers. They are mainly half-Chinese, half-Japanese or half-Korean.
Image of Child Heros The image of a child hero or "trickster" is seen in many cultures. This kind of role can tell a lot about how a culture acts and reacts to things. The idea of the child hero in stories written and told before the birth of Christ probably reflect the peoples beliefs that the child is the future, and therefore carries some sort of power or gift. For stories that were written ...
The Asian culture in general values legitimacy very highly. As a result, the women were forced to abandon their children to escape from persecution and from the shame of having illegitimate, half-breed children. The children had nowhere to go and nowhere to turn to. They became victims of racial prejudice, were considered outcasts and were ostracized in their very own societies (Buck, Pearl S.
, 2005) Pearl was empathetic towards these children and wanted to help. In 1949 she founded the Welcome House, a non-profit organization that provided foster care and helped find adoptive families for these children. The organization experienced tremendous success and in 1964 merged with other agencies that Pearl had founded to become Pearl S. Buck Foundation (Doyle, 2002).
The agency is operating to this day, helping more than 100, 000 children annually. Pearl’s vision of “improving lives of socially, politically and economically ostracized children” continues to guide the agency’s mission (PSBI Website, NDA).
It is impossible to enumerate all of Pearl S. Buck’s contributions to the world and the degree to which she has positively impacted the lives of others. However, I hope that I have illustrated in this paper what a remarkable woman she is and how passionate she was about “promoting tolerance, human rights, inter-cultural understanding (PSBI Website, NDA).” Heroes of the Past and Heroes of the Present There are similarities and differences between heroes of the past and heroes of the present. One common theme in the story of heroes, regardless of the time in history, is courage.
When one thinks of heroes, people who overcome insurmountable obstacles fighting for what is good or what is right on behalf of one or many, comes to mind. A true hero is selfless, kind and compassionate towards others. Through her works and contributions, and to the many ways that she influenced the lives of others, Pearl S. Buck is a genuine, modern day hero. In classic mythology, heroes whether in the form of humans or deity, are either predestined or doomed to their fate.
Before they are even born, or before they even set out for their mission, their success, failure, and even their death had already been predicted. In Greek myths for example, there are three divinities that affect the outcome of life: 1) the Clotho sisters spin the thread of life; 2) Lachesis assigns a person’s destiny; and 3) Atropos who carries scissors to cut the thread of life (Mythology Themes, 2000).
Fortunately such is not the case for modern day heroes such as Pearl S. Buck. She could have resigned herself to the fate of a woman living during a period in history where women had neither voice nor power. Fortunately, she chose not to be “doomed” to this fate and chose to persevere instead.
In doing so, she became one of the most successful, most influential, most radical women in history to fight for human rights. Conclusion Pearl S. Buck lived an extraordinary life. She was raised by missionary parents. She suffered the heartaches of divorce, not being able to bear children. She struggled to take care of a mentally retarded daughter.
She experienced life in both China and the United States at a time when the East and the West were very much divided by cultural unawareness and the lack of technological inventions. She suffered harsh criticisms and much personal devastation. Through it all, she came out a strong and undeterred in her fight for the causes that she wholeheartedly believed in. No one can really tell to what degree Pearl’s contributions will impact the life of others. Her influence will stretch across time, across cultures, across generations. Many heroes of classical mythology and their feats have been immortalized through art and literature.
I am hoping that Pearl S. Buck will also be immortalized but not so much in the form of books, sculptures and paintings. Rather, I envision her life and her contributions to be immortalized through the retelling not only of her own story, but the stories of those whose lives she had changed. References Asian Americans (2005).
Britannica Student Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 22, 2005 from the Britannica Student Encyclopedia Online: web ‘s Calendar (2002).
On Pearl Buck. Retrieved on April 11, 2005 from the World Wide Web: web Buck, Pearl (2005).
Retrieved April 22, 2005, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online: web Pearl S. (1931), The Good Earth, NY: The John Day Company Conn, Peter (NDA), Pearl S. Buck (Introduction: The Good Earth), NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc. Doyle, Paul. A (2000), American National Biography Online: Buck, Pearl S. , Retrieved on April 20, 2005 from the World Wide Web: web Horn (1969).
The Nobel Lectures, 1901-1967, Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company Merriam-Webster Online (NDA).
Retrieved from web on March 9, 2005 PSBI Website (NDA), Pearl S. Buck International Online, Retrieved on April 11, 2005 from the World Wide Web: web Themes (2000), Sparknotes Online: Themes in Mythology, Retrieved on April 20, 2005 from the World Wide Web: web Stephen (2002), The Journal of American Popular Culture, Vol. 1, Issue 1: The Discourse of Whiteness: Chinese-American History, Pearl S.
Buck and The Good Earth, Retrieved on April 11, 2005 from the World Wide Web: web 2002/spencer. htm.