The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1931)

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So for a reading challenge I needed a book that had won an award. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m not usually very impressed by book awards… I feel like whoever’s awarding them have completely different views than I do on what makes a book a good one.

But anyway, my forum friends were reading this one and discussing it anyway, and I’m a sucker for a good discussion, so I picked The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (affiliate link), because it won the Pulitzer Prize and the Howells Medal in 1935.

The first five chapters of this book were my favorite. We started out meeting Wang Lung, a very poor farmer, on his wedding day. He travels to the city and fetches his wife from the great house, where she had been a slave. Her name is O-lan. Wang Lung and O-lan begin their life together, and, by working hard, they prosper. So the first five chapters were sweet.

The rest of the book gets to be heart-wrenching, though. A terrible famine sweeps the land, and in order to avoid starvation, they must go south and beg in the city. By some fortuitous circumstances, they come back rich, though, and Wang Lung the simple farmer becomes Wang Lung the wealthy land-owner. By the end of the book, he is basically the new great lord of the land.

The thing that stood out to me most in this tale, though, is what pride looks like. It wasn’t so obvious what pride looked like while Wang Lung was poor. After all, he did have a sort of forced humility via poverty. But when he becomes rich, it’s painfully obvious that this man is prideful.

I am reminded of President Benson’s landmark talk on pride, “Beware of Pride”. Here are some selections from it:

Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby.

Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.)

Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled. […]

The proud stand more in fear of men’s judgment than of God’s judgment. “What will men think of me?” weighs heavier than “What will God think of me?” […]

Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us. There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous. […]

The proud depend upon the world to tell them whether they have value or not. Their self-esteem is determined by where they are judged to be on the ladders of worldly success. They feel worthwhile as individuals if the numbers beneath them in achievement, talent, beauty, or intellect are large enough. Pride is ugly. It says, “If you succeed, I am a failure.”

So as Wang Lung gets rich, it’s easy to see his pride, because as President Benson says, “Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness.” But Wang Lung was prideful long before he experienced worldly success, but instead of it being the type of pride that looks up, it was “pride from the bottom looking up.”

From the very first chapter, Wang Lung was obsessed with how others perceived him. On his wedding day, he made himself as presentable as possible to satisfy his pride more than to celebrate the occasion. When his new wife entered the house, he had her give his old father tea with their scarce and precious tea leaves, simply because he did not want her to think she had married into a poor family.

It was little things like that that reminded me of President Benson’s talk. And, well, I don’t think of our family as rich, but I do care some about appearances. The question is, do I care because I care too much about what other people think of me, or… do I care because I love others and I want them to feel comfortable around me and in my home? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but I think the distinction is an important one.

Earlier this week, my dad visited. I didn’t have much warning—he was just driving through and I heard about it the night beforehand. Now, growing up, my dad was the one who was concerned with the family appearance, and though he appreciated cleanliness for cleanliness’ sake, what often ended up happening was that we’d rush to clean up a filthy house because it was embarrassing. I don’t know whether it was the family pride or the guest’s comfort that was the motivating factor back then, but you can bet that my when I realized my dad was going to be here—in my house made filthy by three sets of dirty feet and hands constantly all over everything—I had the impulse to clean like mad.

And would you believe it? I had to stop for a moment and consider why I was cleaning. Was it to satisfy my pride, or was it to ensure my father’s comfort? At first, it was to avoid embarrassment. But I decided to change my reasons for cleaning so that I did it as a loving service to help my dad be comfortable during his visit. It helped immensely at making the housework a joy and not a burden.

Interesting.

Jenna

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