The Time Is Noon

She was making her life, shaping it about the children. One had to take life and make it, gather it from here and there–yellow curtains, carrots, a bed for a little boy, milk for a sick baby, sheets of music to write, her unfinished child, a house–out of such and everything she would make her life. And underneath was the strong sustaining web of love unspoken. What if it were unspoken and unreturned? A phrase came flying out of her childhood, her father, from the pulpit, reading, “And underneath us are the everlasting arms.” She had caught the phrase then because it was lovely, listening to him idly in the careless fullness of her childhood. But now when all childhood was gone she could take the beautiful words, like an empty cup, and fill them to the brim with her own meaning, her own secret meaning.

— from The Time Is Noon, Pearl S. Buck, 1966

I wasn’t going to write about this book. I loved it, but I wasn’t going to admit that publicly. You see, the book is about Joan, a pastor’s daughter, and the beginning of her adulthood. Though her relationship with her devout father grows, even beyond his death, her relationship with God stops. She denies there is a God. She chooses to change the meanings of spiritual things to suit herself. The problem with all this… I sympathize a great deal with Joan. And that makes me uneasy because I do not deny God. I don’t know if I ought to admire and relate to Joan so much.

And yet, the book has its charms, drawing me into the story, into Joan’s life and her family. Perhaps I can take the story, like an empty cup, and fill it to the brim with my own meaning. I don’t have to remain true to the unfaithful spirit of the book. I can bring my own faith to the story and see how despite trials and deaths and unwise choices, my story differs from Joan’s. My triumph is everlasting, while her triumph is something lovely but fleeting.


6 thoughts on “The Time Is Noon”

  1. I have not read this novel by Buck, but just finished a biography after Christmas entitled Pearl Buck in China. It gave me a better perspective on her as a person and spiritual thinker to know where she came from and how her complicated relationship with her parents impacted her relationship with God and her literature.
    Oh, by the way, thank you so much for your encouragement and following my blog at

    1. April, I really encourage you to read *The Time Is Noon.* I don’t know as much about Pearl Buck’s real life as you do, but I’ve heard that this novel is semi-autobiographical, so much so that she wrote it and then could not publish it right away because it was too personal.
      Is your biography published and for sale? I’d like to read it.

    1. *The Good Earth* came about from her experience living in China (her parents were missionaries there). *The Time Is Noon* comes from her experience being a missionary’s daughter. They are very different books, but they both have such wonderful characterization.

  2. Pearl S. Buck’s choice, to diverge from her original faith, is not uncommon among gifted writers (ex. George Eliot). Perhaps they are tempted off the narrow road by an unwillingness to accept their human limitations and their need for God. When we relate to characters like Joan, and honestly acknowledge our doubts, we have the choice to deny or affirm our faith. Like you, my doubts lead to affirmation! Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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