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Feminist Novels in a "Non-Feminist" Age: Pearl S. Buck on Asian and American Women

  • Author(s): Shaffer, Robert
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

Nobel Prize–winning author Pearl S. Buck articulated a feminist sensibility in her best-selling novels and short stories from the 1930s to the 1960s about Asian and American women, showing both victimization and strength. This study demonstrates that Buck and her colleagues—female reviewers, readers, and other authors—in these non-feminist years not only helped keep a feminist perspective in the public eye but helped set the stage for the feminist revival of the 1960s. Moreover, Buck used her experiences growing up in China and her credibility in the US as an expert on Asia, not to bolster a sense of superiority among Americans with regard to others, but to show similarities in the social conditions of Asian and American women—an outlook that Shaffer calls “critical internationalism.” Moreover, as her career developed, Buck increasingly portrayed the strength of Asian women in their societies, even when relegated to the “private sphere.” This essay explores what appears to be a paradoxical approach in Buck’s fiction, that over time she maintained her critique of “separate spheres” in American society while she came to appreciate the potential for women of “separate spheres” in Asian societies.

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