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A House Divided

By Pearl S. Buck

January, 1935

Book Introduction

A House Divided, the third volume of the trilogy that began with The Good Earth and Sons, is a powerful portrayal of China in the midst of revolution. Wang Yuan is caught between the opposing ideas of different generations. 
 After 6 years abroad, Yuan returns to China in the middle of a peasant uprising. His cousin is a captain in the revolutionary army, his sister has scandalized the family by her premarital pregnancy, and his warlord father continues to cling to his traditional ideals. It is through Yuan’s efforts that a kind of peace is restored to the family.

Our Review

Here’s the best book Pearl Buck has done since The Good Earth. It belongs to the trilogy begun in that volume, and continued in Sons. And it rounds out the picture, giving us China today, through the story of a student, son of the War Lord, himself part poet, part philosopher, tied by the traditions of old, yet rebelious when they touch his personal problems. The scene shifts from the home of his father to the hut where his grandfather began to put down the roots of his success; then to the coast city, where he met the new China; then to America and flashes of his career as a foreign student; then back again to China, there to seek identification of new and old in the victorious forces of revolution and in wiping out the debt his father had undertaken for him. The story is a gripping one; the picture of new China at war with itself, a convincing one; the style, with that rhythmic prose that seems now Oriental, now Biblical, is characteristically Pearl Buck, and one has come to expect it as part of her power. The book is a sure bet for sales and rentals, and should do as well, or better, than Sons, and much better than The Mother. Count on a sound backing of advertising and promotion.

Book Summary

A House Divided is a poignant coming of age tale depicting the life and struggles of a Chinese youth named Wang Yuan. Nineteen-year-old Yuan is the son of a Chinese war lord at a time when reform sweeps his nation. The upheaval brought about by revolution leaves him trapped between old ways and reform, and he doe not agree completely with either extreme. Conflict plagues him as he struggles against old traditions and new rebellions which embrace foreign customs. He grapples with his own ideologies which takes him on a personal and solitary journey to find his place in his changing homeland.

Yuan flees his father’s home and domineering control without a word. He thinks he is running from his father, but he is really running from his own inner conflict. With no idea of where to go, he remembers a peaceful earthen house his grandfather lived in before he garnered his wealth. He takes up residence within this simple earthen home much to the dismay of the common tenants who live there. In reality, he is not only hiding from his father, but from himself. He wants to be something different than he is, and different from his father. When the entire village looks at him with suspicion as the general’s son, they wonder what he wants from them. This bothers him because he has explained he wants nothing but to feel the earth under his feet.

Within days, his father locates him and sends word to return home. The message says his father’s health is failing. Upon Yuan’s return, his father announces he has arranged Yuan’s marriage. The young man feels deceived and refuses to accept such bondage. Once again he flees without any idea of where to go. His horse goes lame; he sells it and uses the money to take a train to the coastal city where he lives with one of his father’s wives and his half-sister Ai-lan. The lady of the house takes him in as her own son, and he calls her mother. Within this home, he learns modern city ways along with some western customs. As he learns new ways and customs, he does not let go of his traditional foundation. The mixing of the two fuels his inner conflict, often is evidenced by a rigidity that cuts him off from others. This cycle repeats itself throughout stages of his life as a student, revolutionist, prisoner, American student, and a teacher in China. While fighting these personal battles in every direction from without and within, he falls in love with Mei-ling because she is “between” just like he is. She does not fit with the old or the new. In his eyes she is perfect. However, when he asks her to marry him, she says no. Through this event, Yuan grows and accepts her answer with a willingness to still be friends and to stay in touch. When he returns home to his tortured father, he calls on her as a doctor and friend. She comes to stand with him in what is right and through the process agrees to be his wife.

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