Pearl S. Buck's Writings on Handicapped Children
Deborah Clement Raessler
Pearl S. Buck can be described in many ways. The words complicated, challenging, controversial, compassionate, intelligent, and single-minded are but a beginning. When she went to see the movie The Three Faces of Eve, she turned and remarked to a friend, "Only three?"
Most of us have been acquainted with Pearl Buck primarily through her well-known writings. Some may have read only The Good Earth, while others may have read every volume and article they could find. Those who have read My Several Worlds or A Bridge for Passing or one of the biographies about her know that a thread of sorrow ran throughout her life.
I want to share with you the source of a great part of her sorrow, and the story of how she arrived at some measure of reconciliation with this part of her life. Coming to terms with the fact that her only biological child was retarded was something she struggled with throughout her life. When one considers her love of perfection and her love of excellence, it is not difficult to imagine the deep disappointment of discovering that the only child she bore would always be less than perfect. Some believe that she never recovered; she never healed.
From her initial grief and pain, though, she was able, eventually, to come to an understanding of what persons with disabilities can contribute to their families and to their communities.
Not until 1950 do we find anything published about this child, so I am deeply indebted to Frances Webb of the Randolph-Macon Woman's College library for introducing me to the Emma Edmunds White collection of letters from Pearl Buck--a rich resource for those early years. Reading these letters several years ago was the impetus for my delving deeper into later writings and discovering how she not only came to terms with her child's limitations, but also made her child's life useful to others.