The Good Earth

The Good Earth

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The gateman’s wife Character Analysis

The gateman’s wife gives Wang Lung tea while he waits for O-lan to show their baby to the Old Mistress. By this point, Wang Lung feels secure enough in his social status to shun the tea as not good enough for him. Later, once the Hwang family has left the house and it’s been overrun by commoners, Wang Lung finds the gateman’s wife guarding the gate to the inner courts that he decides to rent. Her presence accentuates the difference between his status when he first entered the gates and when he comes to rent the courts.

The gateman’s wife Quotes in The Good Earth

The The Good Earth quotes below are all either spoken by The gateman’s wife or refer to The gateman’s wife. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Washington Square Press edition of The Good Earth published in 2004.
Chapter 28 Quotes

There before him was the great carven dais where the old lady had sat, her fragile, tended body wrapped in silvery satin.

And moved by some strange impulse he went forward and he sat down where she had sat and he put his hand on the table and from the eminence it gave him he looked down on the bleary face of the old hag who blinked at him... Then some satisfaction he had longed for all his days without knowing it swelled up in his heart and he smote the table with his hand and he said suddenly,

“This house I will have!”

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), The Old Mistress, The gateman’s wife
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung has been considering renting the House of Hwang, and he comes upon the gateman’s wife, who shows him into the inner courts and the great hall where Wang Lung met the Old Mistress the first time he came to the house. On Wang Lung’s first visit here, he was humiliated by his poverty and his ignorance of how to act around such social superiors. Even the gateman, a servant himself, acted as though he were far better than Wang Lung.

This experience has stuck with Wang Lung his entire life, and now he’s finally able to retrospectively take control of the situation. As he sits in the Old Mistress’s chair, he symbolically becomes the social equal to the Old Mistress. Furthermore, he’s clearly a social superior to the gateman’s wife. Though this may seem like a very small triumph, the fact that the gateman so humiliated Wang Lung on his first visit gives it significance as well.

Although Wang Lung hasn’t quite realized it, it seems that he’s been working his entire life towards this moment, towards being able to take this seat that he’s always thought of as the ultimate place of power. As it represents the pinnacle of his achievement and occurs before his family begins to more earnestly follow the Hwangs’ path to self-destruction, this moment can be seen as the climax of the novel. However, in the fact that Wang Lung symbolically becomes the Old Mistress just before her family’s decline, this passage also marks the moment that his family slips into her family’s dangerously luxurious shoes.

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The gateman’s wife Character Timeline in The Good Earth

The timeline below shows where the character The gateman’s wife appears in The Good Earth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung returns to the House of Hwang, and now the gates are open. The gateman challenges him impolitely, and Wang Lung nervously struggles to explain his purpose in coming. Finally... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
The gateman leads Wang Lung into a huge room, and Wang Lung almost trips as he gapes... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
The gateman drops O-lan’s box of possessions by Wang Lung’s basket of food and disappears. Wang Lung... (full context)
Chapter 5
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...Hwang. Wang Lung is gratified by the gateman’s amazement at the sight of his family. The gateman can tell that Wang Lung has done well in the past year, and he invites... (full context)
Chapter 28
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...the common people and doesn’t like them. Going further into the courts, he comes upon the gateman’s wife , who has grown old. He realizes how long it’s been since he first came... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung asks the gateman’s wife to let him into the gate she’s guarding. She says she can only let in... (full context)