Gender, economic agency, and social class: A rhetorical analysis of Pearl Buck's The House of Earth Trilogy through the dramatistic pentad of Kenneth Burke



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ABSTRACT NIMMY NAIR GENDER, ECONOMIC AGENCY, AND SOCIAL CLASS: A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF PEARL BUCK’S THE HOUSE OF EARTH TRILOGY THROUGH THE DRAMATISTIC PENTAD OF KENNETH BURKE DECEMBER 2018 For over two hundred years American impressions of the Chinese crystallized as a result of the accounts provided by travelers, Christian missionaries, and merchants. These accounts propagated misconceptions and stereotypes regarding China and the Chinese. American Nobel-prize winning writer Pearl S. Buck had lived in China for the first thirty-four years of her life, a period which gave her a unique perspective into the lives and practices of the Chinese (Conn, “What the Remarkable Legacy”). This study examines Pearl S. Buck’s The House of Earth trilogy in which she sought to showcase the real lives of the Chinese and their socio-economic realities. Twentieth-century rhetorician Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical theory of the dramatistic pentad, along with his theories of identification, mystery, hierarchy, and perfection, are applied to The Good Earth, Sons, and A House Divided to examine Buck’s rhetorical practices. This study examines the three novels of The House of Earth trilogy through the lens of gender, economic agency, and social class. The introductory chapter discusses the inception and evolution of American impressions of the Chinese and Pearl Buck’s concerns regarding the prevalent misconceptions in America regarding the Chinese and their nation. Additionally, the chapter provides an overview of Kenneth Burke’s theory of dramatism and the five pentadic terms – act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose. Using the pentadic ratios in conjunction with Burke’s theories of identification, mystery, hierarchy, and perfection, the succeeding chapters reveal how specific female characters gain and lose agency in a patriarchal culture; how men and women establish relationships with each other to build or improve their economic agency; and, the issues of class and social mobility in late imperial and early modern China. The final chapter examines how Pearl Buck established identification with American readers through social issues such as gender, economic agency, and social class in order to bridge the divide between America and China.



Pearl Buck, Kenneth Burke, dramatism, pentad