The Good Earth Orientalism Analysis

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‘The Good Earth’ and the Possibility of ‘Anti-Orientalist’ Orientalism
In 1931, American author Pearl S. Buck published The Good Earth, an English-language novel depicting a peasant’s life in rural China. The novel was immediately a financial and critical success; after selling millions of copies, it would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. Buck’s writing was praised for its evenhanded and insightful portrayal of Chinese culture and society. Retrospectively, however, many scholars have criticized it as a well-intentioned but reductionist and Orientalist treatment of China. Using Said’s conception of Orientalism as an analytical framework, this essay examines and evaluates charges of Orientalism in The Good Earth. This evaluation pays particular attention to Buck’s background and experiences in China. Next, it discusses
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The novel’s fictional version of China is sometimes an unfairly bleak portrayal of the country, and its most shocking scenes cohere with false Orientalist narratives of Western imperialism and Asian inferiority. However, for an American author, Buck writes with unique authority; few Westerners in her era could match her breadth of knowledge about China, and even fewer could match her dedication to the advancement of cultural empathy with China. Despite the inescapable influences of dominant Orientalist narratives, Buck was able to craft a socially truthful, yet relatable text for Western audiences. Looking back at the outsize impact of The Good Earth, it becomes clear that it defies conventional definitions of Orientalism. Rather than assigning the ‘Orientalist’ label as a veiled accusation of racism and ignorance, scholars should instead recognize that—with the appropriate author intentionality and real-world impact—certain Orientalist works could be culturally acceptable, if not valuable

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