The Several Worlds of Pearl S. Buck: Essays Presented at a Centennial Symposium, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, March 26-28, 1992

By Elizabeth J. Lipscomb; Frances E. Webb et al. | Go to book overview

4
Pearl S. Buck in Search of America David. D. Buck

We think of Pearl S. Buck as an interpreter of China and Asia, for that is the way she wanted to be remembered. In her 1954 autobiography she described herself as having a missionary impulse to inform her fellow countrymen about Asia. 1 She expanded on those same sentiments in one of her last books, China: Past and Present ( 1972), when she wrote with considerable emotion, "My beloved people of China . . . You formed me, fed me, you shaped me as I am forever." And she added, "To the best of my ability, I have tried to speak for you."2 This self-conception can be seen in her first book, East Wind. West Wind ( 1930), in which her characters struggle to create a bridge of understanding Chinese and American ways.

The premise of this essay is that Pearl Buck, in advancing this self-image, leaves out an important aspect of her life, specifically the middle part of her life from 1934 until about 1950, when her primary effort became to proselytize Americans about her own liberal, democratic, and Protestant Christian principles. She believed these were the heart of the American heritage. Interpreting China to America still remained a part of her efforts during those years, but it was only one element in a larger cause that dominated both her public life and her literary work. During these years, Pearl remarried and returned to live permanently in the United States. Under the pseudonym John Sedges, she wrote novels about the United States and American values. In a new 1958 preface for her American novel The Townsman ( 1945), Pearl wrote how the Sedges novels marked the changing from her old Asian self and declared she was writing for "the new American me." 3 This absorption with America is especially obvious in her nonfiction works such as Of Men and Women ( 1941), American Unity and Asia ( 1942), and American Argument ( 1949). Guiding these efforts was a desire to educate Americans about their particular heritage, one which Pearl, although an

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