A young girl, bent over a crate of potatoes, her red and swollen hands working at the potato eyes; a young Chinese farmer working his precious land under the copper sun, his back glistening with perspiration, imagining the great prosperity his work would bring him. One may envision these scenes while reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. In these two novels, the protagonists of each are largely affected by the social expectations of their respective communities. Esperanza Ortega, a young Mexican girl on the brink of her teenage years, has been brought up in the best of all conditions, in the most comfortable of all settings, receiving a superb education from a sophisticated private school among the daughters of other wealthy and educated land-owners, and living like a princess. Suddenly, she and her mother are forced into abject poverty with the death her father in 1930, as her greedy half-uncles strives to make life thoroughly difficult for them, burning down the Ortega house and vineyard. Wang Lung, a Chinese farmer, was born into a poor family; he has been helping to work his family’s land ever since he was old enough to guide the ox and donkey. All his life, he has worked steadily, saving bits of money from harvests; this saving of bits of money eventually made Wang Lung one of the richest men of his area. The two novels Esperanza Rising and The Good Earth, social expectations and caste affects the lives of the main characters in the form of social mobility, living conditions, and parent-child relationships within the household.
Esperanza and Wang Lung have very different relationships in their families. In Esperanza’s family , parents and children are almost equals, except that the elders have more prominent roles to play in the family; there are very intimate relationships between all of the family members. Esperanza is very close to both of her parents; until he died, Papa is a kind of sanctuary for her; “Esperanza... loved to walk with her papa through the winding rows, gazing up at him and watching his eyes dance with love for the land” (Ryan, 1); on the way home from work, “sometimes he even brought beef jerky that the cattle men had made, but Esperanza always had to find it first, searching his shirt pockets while he hugged her” (Ryan, 9). Also,she and her mother are very close, going through sorrows and joys, grieving over Papa’s death and enduring their new status as workers together. In Wang Lung’s household, however, parents and children are far from equals; the family bonds are that of obedience and respect, even between husband and wife. Based on the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism, this lifestyle that emphasizes importance of moral conduct is imminent in the basis of the culture and in the daily lives of Chinese people. Because of this type of increased formality between family members, naturally, the relationships are much less intimate than that of Esperanza’s family. Not nearly as much emotions are shared with one another, leading to lack of understanding of a family member; rarely, consequently, do entire families grieve for the same reason and at the same time, except in the occurrence of a death in the family. Lastly, conflict can easily arise among family members due to the strictness of social expectation in terms of respect and obedience. One such case is when Wang Lung protests and mildly insults his uncle when he is asked for a loan of a sum of money; he knows that “some of the good silver with which he had planned to buy more land was to go into this palm of his uncle’s, from whence it would slip on to the gambling table before night fell” (Buck, 64). He is indignant and unwilling to bend and hand over his hard-earned money; therefore, he speaks out, brusquely explaining that his earnings and wealth comes from the sweat and effort that he pours into the land and his crops; upon hearing this, Wang Lung’s uncle slaps him on both...
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