Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading List Review--The Good Earth

"Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togethew today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam wiffin a dweam..." --The Princess Bride.

Okay, so I'm almost finished with The Good Earth. I like it. Go read it, yes. Pretty much any book I review that doesn't begin with "THIS IS A PILE OF SHIT ON PAPER!" is likely to be a good read, since I tend to do classics. There are just too many, you see. Too many good books, and not enough time.

Anywhosers, it's the story of a man, Wang Lung, in China (damned if I should have taken that Chinese civ. class in college, because I have no idea in what era it is set and am too prideful to go look!--I've narrowed it down to the 1850's to the late 1920's; but that's it). Well, it's the story of Wang Lung, his family, community, and the ways of China at large, from what I can tell. And it's nice to read. The words are prettily constructed, and the thesis is clear, the characters real, the plot involving. I don't want to go too much into it, because I've read almost to the end and don't want this to be a spoiler review.

What I like most about really good reads is the way they get your mind going. Now this book, as you can tell from the title, is focused on the land--in some ways it reminds me of Gone With the Wind, but only marginally so, because of the way Wang Lung is so bound to the earth which nourishes him. So one would think this kind of thing is what my brain would be whirring on about.  And to some extent, it is; earth, class, philosophy...all these are explored thoroughly.

But really what gets my braing going in this are the two very different outlooks the poor and the rich have considering marriage. Who knows about the middle class; I've not yet tackled that. But yes.

In the book--and I think it's fair to say in real life, as well--the [sensible, good] poor approach marriage not as a social duty, or a godly duty, or anything so high and mighty. It is a means. To the poor, life = poverty, and joining with another adult of similar mind/etc. is a good way to share the burden. Two able bodies under one roof is better than one able body under one roof. Eventually, if each works toward the same end under that roof, then they will grow to respect each other, then perhaps even like each other, and then maybe, just maybe, love each other. But loving outright is for the rich, for the poor cannot afford to make a life decision--like saying "I do" to someone and then be stuck with that someone for an entire life--on a whim like love. Not to mention there's no real idle time for money for courting. And there's too much riding on it. Not to say the opposite doesn't happen, and frequently, but I'm talking about the marriages among the poor that last.

In the book--and again, I'd guess in real life--the [sensible, good] rich approach marriage sometimes as a social or godly duty, but mainly as a source of pleasure. To the rich, life = pleasure, and what better way to live than to fill one's life with beauty and grace and seemly things, like the love of a man or a woman. It has nothing to do with sharing the burden, usually. It is born of idleness. What do people do when they are idle? They live idlely, and take up only that which brings them pleasure, like jewelry for their lives, decorating themselves with the body of a man or woman lying beside them in the night. And marriage approached like this seems to work in the opposite direction of that of the poor's...first, it begins with love, passionate, abiding love. Then, perhaps, it fades to like. Then, perhaps, to a form of respect founded in sharing life. Then, even that fades. Then, one or both realizes who exactly they are stuck with, and so end up seeking pleasure elsewhere.

 I realize of course that in both cases I'm making huge generalizations about which I know absolutely nothing, being a lower middle class, unwed chameleon myself.  But that's the way I'm thinking while reading this book.

People are not means, and nor are people jewels. But of the two, I have to admit the way of the poor seems most sensible. Doesn't make it any easier or quicker to select a good mate, in fact, I'm sure it makes it quite a bit harder, as the truly poor can't afford a divorce....but it does make me wonder if we now put far too much emphasis on love in the marriage (the passionate, beginning kind) here in the modern, western world, and not enough on carefully selecting mates who will be useful to us, and to whom we ourselves can be useful.

I'd rather have an O'Lan than a Lotus any day of the week. Yes; a fine read. Although The Stranger is good as well, this is much more taste and style. Only a couple more chapters to go!

**Edit upon finishing book: loved it! [So mad at the sons.] Both sweeping and finely developed. Good choice.

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