The Good Earth: The oppression of women in Chinese culture

25 May

                   The Good Earth written by Pearl S. Buck addresses several issues on the oppression of women in Chinese culture. Buck depicts this idea by describing the oppression experienced by one of the main characters, O-lan; the wife of a selfish ignorant man Wang Lung. The Chinese traditional view is that a woman provides for the family, that she is only capable of working around the house and be under a complete control of a husband not like an assistant but more like a slave. Women were inferior to men; however, the way the rich and the poor women were treated was differed. Rich women had authority and certain rights to have their own slaves (mostly women slaves) to help them with the household chores; however, poor women had to suffer constant criticism and repression. The oppression of women in Chinese culture had a great impact on the society: even now, women throughout China, as well as other places in Asia, are seen as inferior to men. The oppression of Chinese women should be stopped and they should be viewed as a symbol of appreciation and respect because of all the work they have done in the previous years of their lives.

                   The story begins with Wang Lung, a poor farmer, going to the ‘House of Hwang’ to collect his wife (O-lan). As a child, O-Lan has been sold as a slave and she was constantly beaten, and raped by the lords of the house. This already tells us about the plight of women of a lower status, and because the society thinks that they are incapable of performing anything other than housework, they are put into harsh slavery. They work for the rich, cleaning their houses, making meals for them, working on their farms (where, in fact, they generate most of the rich’s money). Women were usually sold and bought like merchandise and were treated disrespectfully. In the story, when Wang Lung takes a look at O-lan for the first time, he disdains her unbound feet. It is clearly stated in the line “he saw with an instant’s disappointment that her feet were not bound.” Chinese women in that century had to bind their feet because it was a trend, and men preferred bound feet, therefore women with bound feet would be more likely to get married than women whose feet remained normal. Just to please the eyes of men, women had to suffer the pain from their early years the rest of their lives.

                    There are certain differences between how the poor and the rich women were treated in the traditional Chinese society. Rich Chinese women would most likely be able to have their own slaves to do work for them and own land; however, they do not have the rights to study and become scholars. Only men at that time were considered to be able to receive education and achieve a higher status. Overall, rich women had a lower status than rich men, because in the Chinese culture, they consider the men as the king of the house. On the other hand, poor women are born to work for the rest of their lives; they are either bought or sold into slavery. Even when they marry, they are left with the house chores and being slaves for the husband.

                   The negativity of the woman oppression is unquestionable; however, when it comes to bearing boys, they are given a little bit of respect. Such change in the attitude toward a woman is presented in the line of Wang Lung “I will go into the city and buy a pound of red sugar and stir it into boiling water for you to drink.” He never offers to give O-lan anything or any favors but when she gives birth to a son he begins to treat his wife with some resemblance of respect. This gives us an impression that women were just seen to be ‘child bearing machines’. It seems ironical since they should have been given more respect and acknowledgement because they are the ones that are capable of creating generations of people. When O-lan gives birth to a daughter, she herself is disappointed as she knows that a girl would not satisfy his husband and she says “it is only a slave this time-not worth mentioning.” Women were losing their pride as they looked down on their own gender. Wang Lung makes a caustic remark on the situation saying “a girl was causing all this trouble in his uncle’s house, now a girl had been born into his house as well.” The tone of his voice tells us that he is annoyed and disappointed with his wife.

                   O-lan exemplifies the women in China that had to sacrifice their own life and views of themselves in order to follow the cultural notions of feminine respectability. She spends most of her life in the kitchen and around the field to make her husband’s life comfortable and simple for him. Wang Lung barely lauds her for her achievements in the house and her outstanding help at the farm; she receives neither appreciation nor passion from him in return. If Wang Lung had even a slight thankfulness in him for his wife, he refused to show it. Because of the Chinese traditional cultural belief that women are inferior to men, Wang Lung gradually belittles O-lan’s position in the household and has an affair with another woman. O-lan’s incredible patience, loyalty and respect for Wang Lung is so great that it makes the readers feel that she is the true hero of the story. Women should not be looked down upon; if it weren’t for women, the whole Chinese society would have suffered greatly economically because of the lack of overall help they receive from women.


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