A House Divided (House of Earth, #3)

By Pearl S. Buck

3,856 ratings - 3.91* vote

"A House Divided," the third volume of the trilogy that began with "The Good Earth" and "Sons," is a powerful portrayal of China in the midst of revolution. Wang Yuan is caught between the opposing ideas of different generations. After 6 years abroad, Yuan returns to China in the middle of a peasant uprising. His cousin is a captain in the revolutionary army, his sister ha "A House Divided," the third volume of the trilogy that began with "The Good Earth" and

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Book details

Paperback, 348 pages
January 1st 2006 by Moyer Bell and its subsidiaries

(first published 1935)

Original Title
A House Divided (House of Earth, #3)
1559210346 (ISBN13: 9781559210348)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Clif Hostetler

This third book in the Good Earth/Sons/A House Divided trilogy follows the life of Wang Yuan, son of a local warlord and grandson the the patriarch of The Good Earth . He has left the revolutionary movement brewing in the south, but finds that he can’t tolerate living with the old traditions of his father's region. Thus Yuan moves to a coastal Chinese city where his stepmother and half sister live.

There Yuan finds himself in the middle of a government crackdown on sympathizers of the revolutionary movement. He then fees to a “foreign country” (presumably USA) to study agriculture. After six years he returns to China to find the country in even more turmoil from competing versions of the revolution. Yuan receives word that the peasants have rebelled in his home district, have burned down his father’s house, and his father is near death.

Yuan returns to his home provence in time to witness his father’s death and reconnect with his step mother and a young woman—romanic love interest—both of whom have also returned to the home district. The book ends with the country in political chaos, but with a hint of hope for Yuan’s personal relationship with his young woman love interest.

In addition to the book's observation of political and social change, it also contains the elements of a romance story. Yuan is a young man seeking love. He doesn't want a traditional arranged marriage, he is repulsed by the Western style party scene, so when he meets the well educated professor's daughter with whom he can have interesting and challenging conversations, he develops feelings of love. But he can't get past the Western/Eastern cultural divide. Thus when he returns of China he falls quickly for a young educated Chinese woman who aspires to be a medical doctor. This relationship has its ups and down, and the author elaborates on the internal thoughts of Yuan as he allows his feelings of love to cause him to think irrationally.

A more detailed description of the book’s plot is at this link .

The Book's story presumably takes place in the early 1930s (book published in 1935), therefore it matches the approximate time of the beginning the the Japanese invasion of China, war with the Nationalist Chinese, and the Long March of the Communist Chinese. Thus people who read this book now know that the chaos described at the end of the book was just the beginning of many years of turmoil.

Since the narrative follows Yuan to the USA and back the book's narrative has ample opportunity to thoroughly compare Western versus Eastern thought and traditions. Issues of poverty, social justice, revolution, religion, and cultural traditions are all examined.

In particular I was surprised how much the Christian religion is discussed during Yuan’s time living in America. The author was the daughter of Christian missionaries to China, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that she chose to write about it. I have included the following excerpts to provide a flavor of how the subject is treated.

Excerpt 1: The book describes Yuan objecting to a missionary’s depiction of China as a place of poverty. Yuan declared that it wasn’t the China he knew. The following excerpt is an overheard conversation of two people talking to each other about which side had the correct description of China:
But Yuan could not stay for such mockery of praying. He rose and went out and stumbled through the streets to his own room. Soon behind him came the footsteps of others who went homeward too, and here was the final stab which Yuan had that night. Two men passed him, not knowing who he was, and he heard one say, “Queer thing, that Chinese fellow getting up like that, wasn’t it?—Wonder which of ‘em was right?”

And the other said, “Both of them, I reckon. It’s safest not to believe all you hear from anybody. . . .”
Excerpt 2: A professor’s daughter discouraged Yuan from being influenced by her father to become Christian:
“The truth is I have been much embarrassed by my parents’ efforts to interest you in their religion. Of them I say nothing, expect they are the best people I have ever known. You know my father—you see—anyone can see—what he is. People talk of saints. he is one. I have never seen him angry or unkind in all my life. No girl, no woman, ever had better parents. the only trouble is that my father, if he did not give me his goodness, did give me his brain. In my time I have used that brain, and it has turned against the religion, the energy that feeds my father’s life, really, so that I myself have no belief in it. I cannot understand how men like my father, with strong, keen intellect, do not use it upon their religion His religion satisfies his emotional needs. His intellectual life is outside religion, and—there is no passage between the two. . . . .”

“But—I am afraid—father may influence you. I know you admire him. You are his pupil. You study the books he has written, he has been attracted to you as he seldom has been to any pupil. I think he has a sort of vision of you going back to your country as a great Christian leader. Has he told you he once wanted to be a missionary? He belongs to the generation when very good earnest boy or girl was faced with the—the missionary call, as it was named. . . .”

“You are of your own race and your own time. How can anyone dare to impose upon you what is foreign to you?”
Excerpt 3: The following describes Yuan’s admiration of the professor and there are some additional words from the professor's daughter:
.... when he sat and heard the old man speak out his knowledge and beliefs, felt no narrowness here, but the wide ranging simple vastness of a mind unlimited by time or space, to which all things were possible in man and god. It was the vastness of a wise child’s mind, to which there are no boundaries between the true and magical. Yet this simplicity was so informed with wisdom . . . .

One day, in such trouble, he said to Mary, when she came in and found him alone and troubled, “Almost your father persuades me to be a Christian!”

And she answered, “Does he not almost so persuade us all? But you will find, as I did, that barrier is the—almost. Our two minds are different, Yuan—less simple, less sure, more exploring.”

The following is a link to my review of the first book in the trilogy, The Good Earth.

The following is a link to my review of the second book in the trilogy, Sons.

Michael Toler

Not many who have read the "Good Earth Trilogy" are likely to agree with me, but this was my favorite book in the series that begins with the The Good Earth, followed by Sons. That is not to say it is the best or most important book in the trilogy, for that depends on what terms we are speaking. All three a page turners with compelling characters and plots. The Good Earth received the most acclaim, is by far the best seller, and is also the best known because it was adapted into a movie. It is also the one that established Pearl Buck's reputation as a writer.

Nonetheless I found A House Divided the most interesting because I found the characters the most interesting and relatable. In this novel Buck depicts characters who are struggling with change and the clash of cultures in revolutionary times. Perhaps it is because Pearl identified with the situation of these characters and understood their situation that she is able to write so perceptively about them. She's able to give us more of an understanding of the psychology and motivations of the characters here than in the other two volumes. Unless, perhaps, I simply understand them better. In any case, a delightful read!


The last of an excellent trilogy, this book focuses on Yuan who is Wang the Tiger's son. Revolution is upon China. Old customs are being thrown out either by the infiltration of Western culture or through revolution. Yuan, a would be revolutionist, has to escape the old guard and spends six years in the US, studies and has a plutonic relationship. On return to China he faces the old versus the new, revolutionaries confused with what they have achieved, a dying father and a first love. His wealthy uncles are fast becoming a lot poorer and no longer have the influence provided by their positions.
Yuan's quandaries and mixed emotions as to what to do in a country with abject poverty and ignorance is matched with his uncertainty as to how to approach the woman he loves who is a modern Chinese independent thinker with her own plans.
To me, probably the best of the three books.


Back in the 1950’s and early 60’s all anyone needed to know about China was In Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. That it was the first in a trilogy was mostly overlooked. The Good Earth Chinese were a vastly ignorant group of mostly hard working, fugal farmers. Tied to their land and traditions that were more a matter of habit than anything close to a deliberate way of living. There was some mention of opium, but only as it was a weakness of a few Chinese and no of real interest to Americans.

Having rediscovered Pearl Buck through her books about World War II, I also found out that The Good Earth was book I of III. I determined to finish the set. Book II, Sons, about wore me out. Three generations of Chinese living out habit/traditions to no particular point or purpose. Women and children more like mobile household objects than people. Occasionally irritating or comforting but no more individual than their more prominently mentioned men.

Except for the fact that Sons ends in something of a cliff hanger and my Kindle copy continued into most of Book III A House Divided I would not have read it. Things did get better.

In book three a reader may finally get some sense that the Wang family is living in a greater history. Book I should have begun somewhere between the beginning of the Century and World War I. Book II brings inenough markers to suspect that just out of sight, the old Emperor has lost any contact with the business of governing, something like the Chinese Nationalists may be rising and maybe in the distance is the discontent that will become the Communist Revolution.

Politics is no more important than the unexpected introduction of railroads and the jarring presence of the automobile. What these things are, is signs that the remote world of the northern, warlord and peasant farmer are going to touch and be touched by the beginnings of a China that is going to be, well not the old one.

The Wang Family, effectively reduced to the one grandson of Wang the Elder, to Yuan the, the.? the son of Wang the Tiger. Through his life we will experience the beginning of whatever is coming. Forced marriage gives way to marriage as an expression of love and with the consent of the Bride. Education is suddenly needed even for the wealthy. Life in the city is not bound to more than a habit of family reverence.

For all of this change who is the then living generation of Chinese? What is a life with causes rather than traditions?

Unlike most of his elders, his stepmother being a heroic exception, Yuan has to find an identity and a role not tied to family. He must negotiate everything from his love life to the prospect of being at once useful and productive in a world not impressed with daddy-his title or silver. This may sound simple, but there are no certain solutions. No self-help books and virtually no one with whom he can form a support group. Evan worse there is wild talk of revolution and sacrifice for causes, neither well defined. Yuan’s China is changing and doing so in way simultaneously at odds with and in sympathy with Yuan’s growing understanding.

He grieves for the poor, if only they did not smell. If only they could be grateful for his efforts in their behalf. He wants to be more lake the larger worlds wherein he gets to study. But he never particularly like that new world. Those people were cruel to him because his skin was different, yet his native Chinese are just as suspicious toward foreign devils.

A House Divided manages to be something I had not found in the earlier books. It has a direction and an identifiable world under discussion. The book ends with that world still in the making. One has to wonder what a fourth volume would contain if Pearl Buck had to confront the modern warlord kingdom that the Communists ultimately established.

Angie (Bussen) Siedell

I'm glad to see how The Good Earth trilogy played out, but A House Divided is nowhere near the book that The Good Earth is. It took me almost two months to read it. It had endearing moments, but did nothing to hold my attention. This book was very easy to put down and forget about for several days at a time. Not terrible, a good enough story, but not a "must read".

"For soon he knew her mind was as simple in its own way as his own country mother's mind, a kindly narrow mind which dwelt on a dish to be cooked...or the garden and its welfare or a bowl of flowers on the dining table. Her loves were the love of God and her own two, and in these loves she lived most faithfully and so simply that Yuan was confounded sometimes by this simplicity. For he found that this lady, who could read well enough to take up any book and comprehend it, was filled with strange beliefs as any villager in his own land. By her own talk with him he knew it, for she spoke of a certain festival in spring and she said, 'We call it Easter, Yuan, and on this day our dear Lord rose from the dead again and ascended into heaven.'"

Rosemary Morris

A couple of days ago, I finished reading the novel, A House Divided by Pearl Buck, which was first published in 1935.

I found this literary novel, in which Pearl Buck tells the fictional story of Wang Yuan, son of Tiger, a Chinese war lord. difficult to read due to its style.

In childhood, Yuan feared his father whose sword was never far from his hand. At the age of nineteen Yuan joined the revolutionists, 'who were the enemies of all lords of war such as the Tiger was.' He returns home wearing his uniform. His father is about to kill him " But for the first time in his life the Tiger's son showed the anger he had in him, but which he had never dared to show before his father."

A House Divided reveals the era prior to the Chinese Revolution, as well as Wang Yuan's uncertainties, selective memory and narrow-mindedness.

Although Yuan is arrested for being a revolutionary, he escapes execution after his family bribe the authorities. He is sent to America where he studies agriculture with the hope of one day improving ordinary Chinese people's lives. Seven years later, he returns home.

Pearl Buck tells the reader how Yuan reacts to America and Americans as well as his reactions when he returns to China, where poverty- stricken people's situation, and the upper class's attitude towards them has not changed. Daughter of missionaries Pearl Buck's descriptions of beggars and naked children obviously came from her heart.

A House Divided is not only about the effects of change on Yuan and his family but also about Yuan's divided, uncertain heart.

All in all, I am glad I persevered and read the entire novel because I learned so much about past times.


This book was a strange one for me. I liked it a lot at first, but then it just stalled for me and got really boring. Yuan was so confused all the time and it seemed that the bulk of the book was about him kinda sorta hating one or another group of people, but not really hating them because he was a gentle soul....over and over. I thought the revolution stuff was interesting, but don't know enough about Chinese history to really understand what was happending in a historical context. I thought it was interesting how Meng hated the poor people who he was supposedly fighting for and that he wanted to join the new "real" revolution. It still rings true today that some people will always seek out conflict and that greed and power can change even the most passionate and well-intentioned people over time. I didn't like that there was so much unresolved turmoil at the end.

Brigetta Barone

To me this trilogy is exquisite. The use of language is like nothing I have ever read before, almost as beautifully crafted as Beryl Markham's West With the Night. This third book is not as good as the first two, but I still gave it 5 stars for the clear sense of the passage of time that this multigenerational story conveys. While the first book, The Good Earth, is best, it's worth it to hear the tale to it's end. Beautiful, beautiful writing.

Johnny Bennett

A House Divided by Pearl S. Buck finishes off this trilogy about turn of the twentieth century China. The Good Earth starts the story with Wang the farmer becoming the father of three sons. Those sons grow up to be a landlord, a merchant, and a warlord, in Sons. They in turn have their own children. The youngest son of Wang the farmer becomes Wang the Tiger who has his own son and daughter. A House Divided follows the son Yuan through the Chinese Revolution.
A House Divided spends a lot of time juxtaposing familiar themes. Old ways fall away in revolution and new ways are introduced. New ways get compared to the old to see if they actually are any better. Industry is compared to agriculture in different times throughout the book. Internationalism butts up against xenophobia. Elite classes rub against the poor and unsightly. A weak government is compared to a militaristic regime. The game of love is displayed against the idea of true attraction. Overall, A House Divided is really about finding balance and a corner that Yuan can call his.
I found A House Divided to be quite enjoyable. I like how, instead of a character progressing through the trilogy, the whole family changes throughout the books. Each book ties solidly to the previous but is fairly capable of standing alone. The plot is a little plodding at times, certainly not what I would call action. My biggest complaint stems from the fact that I read chapter to chapter in a single session if I can. This book is 348 pages and four chapters. There aren’t even obvious stopping points, at least in the kindle edition I was reading. This probably doesn’t help the plodding plot sensation I was having.
This book would be hard to recommend to most people. I feel the plot is too slow to appeal to younger generations but Yuan is too teenager angst ridden to make adults really enjoy it. Idealism and indecision are generally a young person’s game. While I enjoyed it, I’m not certain the mainstream would. There are some poignant and relevant points to be found in the value of relationships that I’m afraid people would miss by skipping this book. I doubt anybody who can read this book would be offended by the content. Somebody who had an overbearing, or violent parent may be sensitive to Yuan’s childhood. Older teens would probably be the youngest possible audience to draw any value from this fine conclusion to the Good Earth trilogy. But if turn of the century Chinese historical fiction is appealing to you, Pearl S. Buck is probably a great choice. She lived in country and loved the people.

Paul Cornelius

I am not sure just how much readers will learn about China and Chinese culture from the Good Earth Trilogy. I do know you will learn a great deal about Pearl Buck, especially in this concluding volume, A House Divided. Buck does manage effectively to conclude the tale of the Wang family in a satisfying way, but she also indulges in her own ideological polemics. All her personal obsessions--mostly subsumed in the first two books--come to the fore in this final work. All the things Buck concerned herself with in private life are made public causes in A House Divided: women's rights, the cultural arrogance of foreign missionaries in China, the plight of foundlings, the intrusion of foreign ideologies, the issue of unbridgeable racial differences, and the impatience of 1930s youth with modernizing China. Little did she realize that this era, the 1920s and 1930s in China, was a Golden Age, in comparison with what was soon to follow: the murderous invasion of Japan in the "new city," Nanking, the civil war, Mao and communism that resulted in famines that would kill tens of millions, a Cultural Revolution that would suppress and seek to destroy independent thought, and a modern day China in the 21st century that has spoiled its land, left it polluted, and is engaging in a technological dystopia that seeks to encroach on free thought and personal independence.

All that would come after Buck's trilogy. For the readers engaged in the "present" of The Good Earth and its sequels, however, there are other changes. This last book displays an altered style of writing for Buck. One that is markedly inferior to the earlier volumes. The rhythm and the syntax of the earlier novels gives way to a shorter, clipped style. Perhaps this was inevitable as Buck moved her characters from an "archaic" age in the first two novels to a modernizing and revolutionary China in this last. Still, A House Divided often suffers in comparison.

At book's end, the final symbol of Mei-Ling and Yuan in the courtyard of the old earthen house probably gives us a last picture of what Buck wanted the new China to be. A place where people are rooted and belong to past traditions. But also a place willing to accept new ideas and seek to better their world through new ways of "seeing" that were dependent on their appropriateness to old China's ways.