Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Pearl Buck

Pearl Buck, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning novelist, talks to Wallace about American women, marriage, career versus family, and the difference between men and women.

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Guest: Pearl Buck

WALLACE: Good evening. Tonight we'll talk about men and women in the United States, at home, at work and in love. Our guest will be one of the most successful women in the world, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize Winning Novelist, Pearl Buck, a writer who is also a wife and mother.

WALLACE: If you're curious to know what Pearl Buck thinks of American women and their husbands, why she says "Most women make their homes their graves" and why she attacks our devotion to "sex appeal" and "romance", we'll go after those stories in just a moment. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Parliament, another fine product of the Philip Morris Company.


WALLACE: And now to our story.....Ever since she began writing as a young woman in China where she was raised by her missionary parents, Pearl Buck has been intrigued by the "battle between the sexes". This contest has become a major social problem in the United States as women find themselves torn between career and marriage, between independence and security, between emancipation and conventional morality. As a wife and mother and author of "Good Earth" and about forty other works, Pearl Buck has apparently had the best of both possible worlds. Miss Buck, in view of your remarkable career, first of all, let me ask you this. Earlier this week you told our reporter this. You said: "Most women are making their homes their graves". What did you mean by that?

BUCK: Well I suppose I meant that they bury themselves there when they don't need to. Of course I believe in home you know.

WALLACE: Well of course you believe in home, but when you say they bury themselves there, would you be more specific with so that we could understand it a little.....

BUCK: Well I think I -- what I meant by that was that they can fulfill all the obligations and the joys of home and at the same time be citizens of their nation and of the world.

WALLACE: And you feel that women insufficiently do that, is that the point?

BUCK: Well, to an extent I think so.

WALLACE: You said, if I may, you said that you had said, you have women who can think only how to flatter their men and who cater to their stomachs and their every whim, that's an insult for any woman.

BUCK: Well, I think that's an insult for a man and I think many men feel it so. It's not a fact, I don't know that many women actually just keep their men that way. I don't like in general for the sake of men to have it said that the approach is through the stomach nor even solely through the heart.

WALLACE: Well the approach can very well be fully fulfilling just through the home. A woman doesn't -- Do you feel that a woman has to be has to go down town or necessarily has to work in government or in something of the sort in order to be a complete woman, really?

BUCK: I'm very glad you asked that question because certainly I don't. In fact she can fulfill everything in the nature of being a citizen by being a woman at home and she certainly must be at home while her children are small.

WALLACE: Well then, I Then I find it difficult to understand how you can say that most women make their homes their graves.

BUCK: Well I think because they stop reading, or reading books that would enlarge their minds, the minds of their family, for example

WALLACE: Approximately one third of all the jobs in this country are held by women, uh Miss Buck. Half of these women are married, we have wives who belong to clubs, work for charities, play cards, true?

BUCK: Quite true.

WALLACE: Is it not even a fact that possibly uh the fact that women have to split themselves so, their job being tougher than that of men, is partially responsible for the weakening of family ties and the degeneration of the family?

BUCK: I quite agree.

WALLACE: Well we can have no argument there at all.

BUCK: None.

WALLACE: Then how then how would you suggest then then then let us go to the root of the problem which is to try to understand how a woman can successfully enter both worlds.

BUCK: Well I think she has the same problem that men do really because actually if we're going to go to the root of the problem, I think it isn't so much the isolation – uh from one another, men from women and women from men as the fact that you know it it's very difficult to be an American, did you realize that?


BUCK: We're actually, ah, we're in a sense, we're committed to loneliness. When you have these great ideals of independence, and of freedom, many of the old bulwarks that the older civilizations had are thrown away and it's a great adventure so to speak.

WALLACE: I'm not sure that I'm not sure that I understand.

BUCK: Not understand? Well, if you've lived in an old country such as China or Japan or even the old countries of Europe, you have so much tradition of family, church, the same church, perhaps, at least not such a variety of religions as we have, so much less choice as an individual. You are, you have supports that we don't have in our civilization.

BUCK: I think it's our strength that we don't have them, but I think that often times what we think of as the loneliness of women or the loneliness of men is really a sort of human loneliness which our freedom and independence commit us to.....

WALLACE: Uhm.....

BUCK: .....and so often we think we're lonely because we're women or we're lonely because we're men but we're really lonely because we are living in a country with no boundaries so to speak and no pattern, and of immense ideals which are difficult for us to follow.....

WALLACE: To live up to.

BUCK: .....and yet which give us an enormous responsibility in the eyes of the world's people.

WALLACE: Let's come back just to women and look at what some people say is happening in America, apparently because of feminism of which I believe you are a champion.

BUCK: No, you're quite wrong.


BUCK: Yes, I'm not a feminist.

WALLACE: I was under the impression now, I'm I'm I'm happy to be corrected, I was under the impression that you are rather militant in your desire that a woman find herself as an independent free spirit and that you feel that she cannot find herself or is not finding herself as an independ - independent free spirit currently in the home.

BUCK: No I think of -- of the fact -- I think that what I feel is that women have to find themselves as human beings just as men do, and that they will find themselves as these free spirits that you speak of when they are really fulfilling themselves as human beings.....

WALLACE: Well, can't.....

BUCK: .....in a cooperative fashion.

WALLACE: Well can a career woman for instance, you think successfully have her career and have her home

BUCK: Well certainly she can. She can't always have them both at the same time and because there are all the years you know when you must devote yourself to your children. I'm lucky because I've done my work at home...

WALLACE: Uhm.....

BUCK: .....but there are years when a woman certainly cannot go out to offices or so on and take care of the children at the same time. She may employ other people to do it.

WALLACE: Well then, you would suggest that the average woman who has young children not make any effort to go after a career at one and the same time.

BUCK: Well, if she wants a career, it will come and she will have it. She may have to postpone it for a few years but those years need not be what I might call "grave years", I mean bury herself.....

WALLACE: Well, let's be let's be perfectly sensible, an awful lot of families need the extra money that or think that they need the extra money that the woman can bring in. The husband by himself cannot bring enough for the labor saving gadgets, they cannot lay enough money aside in these days of high taxes and so forth, for future education, for vacations and for some of the pleasantnesses of life therefore, they go down town.

BUCK: Oh well, that's an individual thing. If they have to have more money, of course sometimes they do have to have it and I think women will have to work out some means of taking care of each other's children or some such thing as that. I think ideally, these things can be worked out.

WALLACE: I think that you're regarding this in perhaps a rather "Olympian" fashion. You say you think perhaps this can be worked out. Is it as easy as that? For instance, in a Life Magazine article just a couple of years ago, Robert Kaufmann said..."Here in New York City the career woman can be seen in fullest bloom and it is not irrelevant that New York City also has the greatest concentration of psychiatrists.

WALLACE: She dislikes housework, he says, she has never learned how to cook, she turned the children over to nurses as soon as she could, she never gives much of herself to her husband, and he wishes that she would do more of the things that women are supposed to do. He wishes she were more of a woman.

BUCK: Well, of course that is rather a large statement too, and I think of course we women hear a great many things that men say about us, and I suppose many of these things are true, but the fact remains nevertheless, if I have a criticism of American women and I must tell you that I think American women are remarkable, and I'm not going to run them down, because I think they're really a wonderful

BUCK: and the extraordinary thing is that European women and women of Asian countries, are more or less taking a -- American women as models and they're enlarging their own lives, seeing American women. If I did make a comparison, however, between the American woman and the Asian woman, I would perhaps say, that the Asian woman has learned long since, not to measure her men and her children in

BUCK: ...terms of whether they make successes according to the accepted idea of success, in our American world.

WALLACE: Of money

BUCK: Of money.

WALLACE: ...Of possessions.

BUCK: ...and position and so on, and she is more inclined to enjoy them as they are and interested in them as individuals, rather than as instruments, toward general success. Now when I happened to say that to an American man he said, "Well, I'm not sure that that's a good idea, because the American man needs this stimulus, and look how much further along we are as a nation, than the Chinese are, as in science, for example."


BUCK: So there are things to be said on both sides.

WALLACE: Well, what is it that you admire, then, so much about American women that you said that you as you have just said that you --

BUCK: What I don't admire is the fact that they tend to allow themselves to slump mentally, because they're housewives.

WALLACE: But, it's so difficult. Perhaps you don't have to perhaps you truly, undoubtedly are not an average American woman and they -- they have so many problems, the kids to take care of, and no help to help them to take care of them and a husband to console, the infinite number of chores during the course of the day and you at the same time say, keep your mind alert and keep abreast of current affairs, read books, where in the world do people get the time and the energy to do all these things, Miss Buck?

BUCK: By organization of time. I have to organize my life very highly too, because I have a large family, and I have a full-time job and I do other things, but it means you eliminate the things that are not essential and concentrate on the few essentials. It can be done, if one wishes to enough, and if one feels an obligation, you know, and an interest in being a human being and a sister as well as a mother.

WALLACE: Miss Buck, also you told our reporter, "It's a terrible shock to hear women when they get alone and talk about men." Now pardon my simple curiosity, but I'd like to know what do they say?

BUCK: Don't think that I'm going to tell you what they say, because I'm not.

WALLACE: Why not?

BUCK: Well, I don't think that would be cricket, but nevertheless, I think that I'm sometimes rather appalled I quite confess by the fact that while our women adore their men, and wouldn't be without them, they don't sufficiently respect them shall we say.

WALLACE: Why don't they respect them?

BUCK: You would have to tell me that.

WALLACE: Oh, now come...

BUCK: Yes.

WALLACE: You certainly know yourself, why I don't know whether you're reflecting your own point of view or the point of view of women around you with whom you've talked and so forth. They don't respect their men why? Why don't they respect...

BUCK: Well, I don't know, I can't imagine.

WALLACE: Is it because women themselves try to emasculate men, and therefore build--I'm-I'm quite serious about this and for that reason, I don't mean to go over-psychological here, but they want to usurp the the place of men.

BUCK: No I don't think any women really want to usurp the place of men. I think we do have a peculiar circumstance in our country, in that we have we educate our boys and girls exactly the same, and so that the fields of success are the same, and I think that women have the obligation and the right to do anything that they wish, but to do it as women and not as men, but having exactly the same education sometimes they don't know how to do it as women...they don't know what their contribution is. By the way I've just the reason I'm interested in this particular subject is I've just written a play on this very subject.


BUCK: Of what a woman is and how and what are her functions and what is she as a human being. Yes it is, it's been lots of fun writing it, it's called The White Bird.

WALLACE: And it's going to be produced in the fall?

BUCK: Yes.

WALLACE: Good. Can you capsulize what a woman is for us? Or would you rather not.

BUCK: No - she's a human being...a....a woman human being that's all.

WALLACE: Hmmmm........

BUCK: Our common denominator is human being........

WALLACE: Well, aside from biology, what are the important differences between men and women Miss Buck?

BUCK: Heavens! You ask me that in this little while?

WALLACE: Well, we have uh... fifteen minutes if you'd care to discourse.

BUCK: Well, I think that women... if I must discourse...WALLACE: You...

BUCK: What...

WALLACE: Whatever you... whatever you want...

BUCK: ...whatever I'd like to say? I think women do have a particular point of view, uh, it isn't competitive with men at all, uh, I think they're less romantic then men, less emotional, much more practical, uh, much more independent then men are.......

WALLACE: You're talking about American women?

BUCK: Uh, women anywhere in the world this is common woman state,

WALLACE: Uh huhmmmmm....

BUCK: Uh, they tend toward, ....they, they.... they're interested in life, not in death, I think oftentimes men have.... if we are to generalize, and I'm doing what I hate - to generalize.....

WALLACE: I know, I know......

BUCK: Because we can't say that these things are true of all individuals,....

WALLACE: Of course.....

BUCK: But I think that women believe in life, it's natural that they should - they create - they're creative people because they create children, and I know it's commonly said that they don't create...they haven't created great works of art, but there are reasons I think for that- I think the time will come when they will, but nevertheless it's um....a life interest, a life urge, - - and I think that the men in general don't have that.

WALLACE: Miss Buck, if I may say this, I asked you before what women think about men - what they say about men when they get together, and I gather we have gotten a rather elevated version of what they say about men. I... I would gather from what you have told me now for the past minute or two, that you don't respect men very much.

BUCK: Well, I think I respect individual men very much. I don't say... I would never say I don't respect men...

WALLACE: Well, I know, you can't generalize.... but...

BUCK: But uh.....

WALLACE: But look at all of the things that you've said over the past minute or two. I think that you think that men are infinitely superior really......oh not infinitely, but considerably superior to men.

BUCK: Women are superior to men?

WALLACE: As human beings, yes.

BUCK: You mean women, you said men.

WALLACE: Oh, I...thank you....

BUCK: Yes....

WALLACE: No, that..that women are superior to men, yes.

BUCK: No, I don't think so. I think they're complimentary. They do compliment each other. I am not going to be uh, inveigled into saying ......

WALLACE: No, no, don't be inveigled into saying anything.....

BUCK: Ha, ha, ha. I.....

WALLACE: I understand.....I understand that as a writer you are constantly approached by publishers to write about young love, and we do have in our society an emphasis on romance, and external sex appeal, make-up, revealing clothes, erotic advertising... how do you account for that?

BUCK: Well, I think we're interested in youth in our country we're very young, and uh we haven't really lived long enough to ... to understand the joys of being old, or mature let's say.

WALLACE: Let's talk about......

BUCK: And we also love that...the....we...we... perhaps don't realize that that ecstasy of first love is uh, is not the only form of love, nor even the most interesting.

WALLACE: Well, let's talk a minute about a mature relationship between a husband and wife....

BUCK: Yes.....

WALLACE: The French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, wrote this: She said, "Man and wife reach a compromise. They live side by side, without too much mutual torment, too much lying to each other, but there is one curse they very rarely escape, it is boredom. The thousand evenings of vague small talk, blank silences, yawning over the newspaper and retiring at bed time. " How can that be avoided in modern marriage?

BUCK: Well, I don't understand that passage at all, except that it is very French, perhaps the French are easy to bore.

WALLACE: You don't think that this is a national.. .uh...... .

BUCK: I don't think so...

WALLACE: ...occupation, or marital hazard?....

BUCK: Not in this sense, I don't think so......

WALLACE: Boredom is not?

BUCK: In fact, I am quite interested in the fact that women and men do do a considerable number of things together. Do you think we are bored with each other?

WALLACE: I... I... do I think?

BUCK: Hmmmmm...

WALLACE: I....I...

BUCK: Would you agree with that?

WALLACE: I ask only the questions.

BUCK: Oh,....excuse me .... ha,ha, ha,.......

WALLACE: Only the questions... I'm here to listen to you. Tell me this, if a, if a man and a wife or perhaps there's no point in going on with this, uh.......you uh , you said a little while ago, I, I can't reconstruct it, let me ask it this way,.... you told our reporter again earlier this week - you said :"I'm beginning to think of my own death with excitement, and zest." Now, in just a moment I would like to hear why. And we'll get Miss Buck's answer to that question in just 60 seconds.


WALLACE: Now then, Miss Buck. Earlier this week you said: "I'm beginning to think of my own death with excitement and -zest. "

BUCK: That sounds rather contradictory - doesn't it?.....

WALLACE: Yes....

BUCK: Yes. Well that's uh, taken out of context as a matter of fact, it's so interesting to have these things brought back to you in sort of pills,...

WALLACE: Yes, I know.

BUCK: ...bits of what you had said..

WALLACE: It's a little difficult.

BUCK: ....what I said really, was that in relation to this idea of romantic love, editors do want you to write stories so often of romantic love, not seeming to realize that each age has its compensations. And its companionships, and its mature relationships, and I use as an example the fact that young people especially I won't say special women in this case perhaps, but the children young people are very frightened of death.

WALLACE: Uh huh.

BUCK: ...and yet as you grow older that fear naturally passes away, until as you get to be really interested in the next phase of whatever it is to be you find this fear of death is gone, and you begin to have a certain excitement to what comes after. Now I've often said that I hoped that when I die I won't say that I've often said it, but I hope that when I die that I won't be unconscious.

BUCK: I want to be sure that I know what is going on so I understand every step of life because death is a part of life... at some end or other.

WALLACE: Your parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China, were they not?

BUCK: Yes.

WALLACE: Does formal religion give you any consolation or any better understanding of death?

BUCK: I don't think I have a feel any particular need of consolation I've had an extraordinary happy and good life and expect to have considerable more of it, and of course having lived in China so long I had tutors and other religions too, and to me these religions are all approaches to the same end.

WALLACE: There's so little time left Miss Buck, but with your experience in China I would feel remiss if I didn't ask you this, on a totally different subject. Do you feel the United States can do anything to lessen the menace that Red China would seem to be to the West at this time.

BUCK: Certainly. Of course I always have to speak in human terms, you know, being a writer and artist and not interested well, I won't say I'm not interested in politics, but I'm not a politician, but any human approach, helps toward this end.Small or large, I do my own small approach, through Welcome House, which is an adoption agency, for mixed-blood children, mixed Asian and American children.

BUCK: I think that helps in its own small way. I should like to see for example all sorts of contacts, human contacts begin between ourselves, and China or any country why not?

WALLACE: And of course you believe that Red China should be recognized, I say, of course, because you've said that publicly.

BUCK: What I said was that I believed that the United Nations should be made up of all nations and peoples and that would include whatever nations there are in the world.

WALLACE: What do you understand to be our reluctance, when I say our the United States reluctance to deal with Red China?

BUCK: I really am not competent to say. Not thinking in those terms I suppose we are committed to various other persons that we have military bases and so on, but I'm not that you see none of that keeps us from human contacts... if we really set ourselves to it --

WALLACE: Contacts perhaps similar to those which have been recently been arranged between our State Department and Russia..

BUCK: With Russia certainly.

WALLACE: Do you think the Chinese people as a whole on the main land want Chiang Kai-shek to drive the Communists out and head their Government again.

BUCK: I don't know, I have no contact with that main land at all today, I'm as cut off from it as though I've never been there. It's an amazing thing.

WALLACE: Are you I imagine a little wistful about it?



BUCK: It's inevitable.

WALLACE: And you are not wistful about what is inevitable?

BUCK: No, I learned better.

WALLACE: Final question, to come back to our original subject. Simone De Beauvoir, talks about the second sex. Do you feel that women in America are the second sex?

BUCK: Does that mean inferior?

WALLACE: Regarded as inferior, not in fact now.

BUCK: I don't think so. I think women really here are on their way they're in transition, they have all sorts of problems of course, but I think that as fast as they want to grow, men want them to grow. Don't you think so?

WALLACE: I'm not sure, but I thank you for spending this time, Miss Buck. When I say I'm not sure what I mean of course is that -- I'm not sure that the vast majority of men want them to grow that fast that there will come out of -- out of the home and --

BUCK: Don't say leave the home you know I don't mean leave the home.

WALLACE: No. You suggest that they fracture themselves and leave half there and bring the other half downtown, you think it can be done. Despite vast strides in recent years, women in America are still considered by some if not by Pearl Buck, the second sex, and faced with double standards too. Pearl Buck is obviously an exception, she thinks, speaks and acts for herself, and somehow in the process, she would seem to have become not less, but more of a woman.

WALLACE: In a moment we'll be back with a rundown on next week's guest. A tough fearless critic of our life and times.


WALLACE: Next week in a special live telecast from Hollywood, we'll go after the story of a social rebel whose targets have included politics, religion, sex and Hollywood itself. Our guest, you see him behind me, will be Ben Hecht who has been a prominent playwright, novelist, screen writer and a belligerent critic of our life and times.

WALLACE: If you're curious to know why Ben Hecht charges that thinking about politics is fatal to the brain why he calls television a baby sitting industry cooing at the crowds and why he regards religion as incomprehensible voodoo we'll go after those stories from Hollywood next week. Till then for Parliament, Mike Wallace goodnight.

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