Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Eleazar Lipsky

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
This section contains 577 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Eleazar Lipsky

Critical Review by Eleazar Lipsky

SOURCE: "Man and Mushrooms," in Saturday Review, Vol. 42, No. 20, May 16, 1959, p. 31.

In the following review, Lipsky asserts that the scientific story dwarfs the human story of Buck's Command the Morning.

In Laura Fermi's account of her life with Enrico Fermi, Atoms in the Family, there appears a photograph of Fermi waiting to receive the Nobel Prize for science in 1933 at Stockholm. In that same picture, there also appears Pearl Buck, waiting to receive the prize for literature. The scientist seems unimpressed by the occasion, but Mrs. Buck appears tense and deeply affected.

Perhaps it was this encounter that first aroused Mrs. Buck's interest in science, for Fermi looms large in her latest novel, Command the Morning, which deals with the human side of the quest for nuclear energy. Her concern for the problem is well known. She has spent many days at Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos, she has studied atomic physics from textbooks and talked with the wives as well as the men who developed the first sustained nuclear chain reaction and the bomb dropped on Japan.

Inevitably Mrs. Buck has turned her interest in nuclear physics to play and novel form. Closely following the historical facts, she deals here with the special problems—emotional and domestic and moral—which arise when the arts of peace are turned to war. The central characters are fictitious, but actual scientists and political figures appear under their own names, or thinly disguised, to express contrasting views regarding the central moral issue: whether or not to develop and drop the bomb. Against this larger story, Mrs. Buck describes marriage strains and unhappy love affairs leading to the decision of her protagonist, a woman scientist, to return to her birthplace in India and the ways of peace. It is a solution not open to everyone.

Of course, all this is not really a scientific problem at all, except in the central sense that the quest for knowledge calls for an initial choice of the field of exploration. Once the scientific process has begun, the remaining problems, moral and political, are those common to humanity. Properly speaking, no scientist either dropped the bomb or made the decision: It was a soldier who executed an order of the political and military head of the nation. All those who supported or approved that order shared the responsibility. The bomb is merely one example of the more generalized problem of our times.

Mrs. Buck is earnest and intelligent and her science is accurate. The crucial episodes showing the explosion of the first bomb are charged with excitement. But, through no fault of hers, the science fails to support the human story. The atomic blast over New Mexico seems to destroy by overexposure the more truly significant, but (in this context) petty problems of the scientists. That one scientist should see in that first blinding explosion the resolution of a problem in marital infidelity is inappropriate to say the least.

It is not true (as a leading critic has suggested …) that the novel of science should deal only with the "big bang" to achieve contemporary significance, for the proper field of the novel is humanity, and the cosmic stage may be too large for its dwarfed actors. It is all a matter of scale. For all the author's intellectual discipline and technical accuracy, one cannot say that this novel reaches its goals, or that it satisfies the appetite for greater insight into the matter.

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This section contains 577 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Eleazar Lipsky
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