"The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck charts the rise of the Lung family after suffering through poverty and famine. The family nearly loses its small plot of land and the protagonist, O-lan, kills her infant daughter to save her from starvation before their fortunes turn. Irony is used to underscore the family's struggle at several points in the novel.

Status Symbols

Wang Lung dreams of being a wealthy man, and he starts by buying a plot of land from the declining House of Hwang. By the end of the novel, his own house ironically mirrors the House of Hwang. He spends frivolously as did the Hwang masters, and he has made his wife a virtual slave on his land as she was essentially a slave to the House of Hwang. O-lan works the land very hard every day, which is part of what helps the family gain wealth. It is also ironic that Lung looks at his wife and is disappointed that she does not have bound feet, which is a status symbol of wealth. The irony is that if she did have bound feet, she would not be able to work, and they would not be wealthy. Finally, the book's title is ironic because the earth is not very good to the Lung family. They are not able to grow crops because of a drought, and when water finally does come, it is a flood that drowns all the crops. The earth is part of what causes the family's misery.