Who's Afraid of Pear S. Buck?
Jane M. Rabb
When I fast became interested in Pearl Buck in the late 1970s, I went to the library to read more about her. Aware that the feminist movement had inspired countless books on women writers, I was astonished by the scarcity of material about Buck. Now, more than fifteen years later, I remain astonished that so little attention has been paid to her by scholars. Why do the shelves continue to fill up with books about Jane Austen and Emily Brontë, Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, but not about Pearl Buck, certainly one of the most distinguished figures America--if not the world--has ever produced?
This group hardly needs to be reminded of her many accomplishments, but apparently others have forgotten them. She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, breaking new ground with her ethnic characters and honest depictions of hitherto taboo subjects, such as childbirth, while expanding the frontiers of established genres, such as biography. As a humanitarian, she publicly and pragmatically addressed the problems of children handicapped by birth defects or mixed race and inspired others to do the same. As an unofficial diplomat, she introduced Americans to Asia through her writings and through the organizations she founded to improve East-West relations, and even influenced government initiatives. Finally, her insights about racism, scientific ethics, and sexism make her a forerunner of the civil rights, antinuclear, and feminist movements. Indeed, in many respects, Buck is still so far ahead of her time that these movements have not caught up with her. Certainly there are more eminent writers, humanitarians, diplomats, disarmament experts, civil rights advocates, and feminists, but no one individual, male or female, comes to mind who has accomplished so much in so many significant areas.
Buck's humanitarian legacy endures through Welcome House and the foundation bearing her name, the two still-flourishing organizations she founded to alleviate the plight of mixed-race children. 1 Her example also