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Who is Pearl S. Buck?

By Venus D.
Updated May 23, 2024
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Pearl S. Buck is the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Born on 26 June, 1892 as Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker to Southern Presbyterian missionaries, Buck spent most of her life in China, where she learned English as a second language, and returned to the United States only when entering college. Pearl S. Buck used her knowledge and experience of Chinese culture to create one of her best known works, The Good Earth. Her other works include East Wind: West Wind, The Exile, and The Fighting Angels. Buck wrote over 100 works of literature throughout her career.

Pearl S. Buck's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Good Earth, had a significant impact upon how the American public viewed China and its people during the onset of World War II. About a farmer named Wang Lung, the novel accomplished what no journalistic work could have. It helped reduce the prevailing ethnocentrism and xenophobia towards the Chinese, because Wang Lung’s values were universal. The novel was the story of a man’s attempt to create a life he could be proud of while trying to fulfill his duties to his parents, wife, children, and society in general. Interwoven into the story were themes of failure, suffering, triumph, and happiness. Pearl S. Buck’s work of art continues to inspire and has a significant value within the world of American literature.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from the Randolph-Macon Women’s college and a Master of Arts from Cornell University, Pearl S. Buck taught English Literature at Nanjing University in Beijing, China. Working from her home in Pennsylvania, USA for most of her life as a writer, Buck also pursued humanitarian causes. Buck created Welcome House, Inc., the first interracial adopting agency, in 1949, to improve adoption policies concerning Asian children and bi-racial children. The adoption agency is now known as the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. In addition to encouraging the adoption of interracial children, it provides funding for children in several Asian countries and maintains memorabilia of Buck’s life, including her farm, Green Hills Farm.

The main themes of Buck's novels, including feminism, emotions, and immigration, were conveyed through her description of Chinese culture, revealing that humanity knew no cultural boundaries. Pearl S. Buck also actively promoted cultural exchange, establishing the East and West Association in 1942. Also, as a trustee of Howard University and a contributor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) journal, she was actively involved with the civil rights movements.

Pearl S. Buck endured a rather turbulent personal life, which included a divorce from her first husband. Her only biological child, Carol, from her first marriage, suffered from phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder that causes brain damage, and had to be institutionalized. Buck's second marriage, to her publisher Richard J. Walsh, was happier, and the couple adopted six children. Despite whether or not she was happy, Pearl S. Buck never relented in her personal pursuit to improve the world around her.

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