Joan comes home to Middlethorpe, Pennsylvania in 1920, a young college graduate full of hope and optimism. “The Time is Noon” follows her life as she begins to care for her ill and aging mother, faithfully attends the local church under the preaching of her pastor-father, and cares for her younger brother Frances and sister Rose. Her father is completely engrossed in his work as a preacher and her mother relies on Joan as the eldest.
When Joan is left destitute and alone, her siblings having left home, she makes a choice that impacts the rest of her life.
“She rose and packed her mother’s things steadily into the trunk, and when they were all put away she closed the lid and locked it fast. Their babyhood, their childhood, their mother’s life – all were locked away now, forever. It darted across her mind that there was nothing there of the man’s – nothing of their father at all…”
Choosing security and marriage, Joan ignores her inner qualms as to her choice of marriage partner, and her life is never the same. There is very little romance or beauty in Joan’s life, but as Joan progresses through life and matures, she finds a way to make her own beauty.
“There could not be, of course, any white satin nor any of that dreaming. White satin would have sat strangely upon her with Bart standing by her in his bursting blue suit. So she put on her old orange wool dress and her brown coat and the small brown felt hat and she and Bart stood before the country clerk, repeating his words.”
Joan finally has a child to love, a child to make a real home for, in her bleak hard life as a farmer’s wife… but sadly, even that small happiness is flawed. As we follow her on throughout this story, we are hoping so much that Joan will find contentment and happiness. However, although her life is hard, Joan is always hopeful and finds others to nurture and make a home for.
“…this house sheltered her at once, warmly, closely. She felt as though she had already lived here a long time. She loved the deep walls, the many small windows, the hues of brown and golden stone. There was an old fireplace. Someone had taken the stones of the field, from his own land, and built this house and made a fireplace to warm him…and she would live here with all her children, gathering them together beneath this roof.”
Pearl Buck’s writing in this novel is just so lovely. But what a tragic story! Joan’s life seems to consist of one tragedy after another.
The best that I can say about this novel is that Joan’s character is resilient. Although never completely fulfilled, she does find the strength to continue with her optimism that life, even with its disappointments and dashed hopes, for her, was still worth living. Because, after all, the day is not yet over – the time is just noon.