The Good Earth

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The Old Lord Character Analysis

The Old Lord is the male head of the House of Hwang. Like his wife, the Old Mistress, he represents the wealth and power that first frightens Wang Lung, and then becomes his goal. The Old Lord’s money comes from his family, so he’s never known life without endless supplies of it, and he spends it without a thought. This practice eventually contributes to his family’s ruinat. Wang Lung meets him only once, when he goes to the great house to buy land with the jewels that O-lan stole. By this time, the Old Lord and Cuckoo are the only people left in the house, and the Old Lord himself opens the gate that the gateman used to tend, showing how far he has fallen from his previous position. Furthermore, he’s completely controlled by Cuckoo and comes across as a pitiful, despicable character who proves that wealth is not necessarily permanent.

The Old Lord Quotes in The Good Earth

The The Good Earth quotes below are all either spoken by The Old Lord or refer to The Old Lord. 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 5 Quotes

I had but a moment for private talk with the cook under whom I worked before... but she said, ‘This house cannot stand forever with all the young lords, five of them, spending money like waste water in foreign parts and sending home woman after woman as they weary of them, and the Old Lord living at home adding a concubine or two each year, and the Old Mistress eating enough opium every day to fill two shoes with gold.’

Related Characters: O-lan (speaker), Wang Lung, The Old Mistress, The Old Lord
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang, Opium
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

After O-lan visits the House of Hwang with her son, she tells Wang Lung as they walk home that the family is experiencing financial difficulties. The Hwangs are so used to having endless amounts of money at their disposal that they have neither the ability nor the desire to limit their pleasures. The description of the Hwang family in this passage shows that wealth has led them into constant decadent indulgence, and throughout the book, wealth will be associated with this same sense of excess.

Furthermore, as Wang Lung later begins to grow prosperous, he will imitate the Hwang family in many aspects of his life, as he continues to admire their wealth and superiority in the town. However, he will fail to fully consider the mistakes they made in order to avoid making them himself. O-lan’s account of the Hwangs’ mistakes in this passage actually foreshadows the later progression of Wang Lung’s family. His eldest son will pursue women he shouldn’t and spend excessive amounts of money; Wang Lung himself will buy concubines; and he will have to constantly supply his uncle and his wife with opium. O-lan is the only one who never gives in to the temptation of debauchery, perhaps because she sees clearly the fall of the Hwangs as she relates it in this passage.

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Chapter 16 Quotes

But all this was not a sudden thing. All during the lifetime of the Old Lord and of his father the fall of this house has been coming. In the last generation the lords ceased to see the land and took the moneys the agents gave them and spent it carelessly as water. And in these generations the strength of the land has gone from them and bit by bit the land has begun to go also.

Related Characters: Cuckoo (speaker), Wang Lung, The Old Lord
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang, The Land
Page Number: 151-52
Explanation and Analysis:

When Wang Lung brings the jewels to the House of Hwang to buy land, he finds that only the Old Lord and the servant Cuckoo remain. The Old Mistress is dead, the house is falling to pieces, and the rest of the family has scattered. Cuckoo explains that mismanagement of the family’s wealth allowed this ultimate destruction.

Cuckoo’s interpretation of the family’s loss of wealth both supports Wang Lung’s ideas about the land and acts as a warning to Wang Lung as his family grows in prosperity and begins to follow in the footsteps of the Hwang family. Cuckoo points out that as the Hwangs lost their connection with the land and let other people manage it for them, they lost all appreciation for the value of money and the work that it took to earn it.

Furthermore, Cuckoo seems to associate their distance from the land with a weakening of body and character. If the land—and working on it—gives life, then ignoring the land makes life drain from the family. Finally, the Hwangs began to sell their land, meaning they got rid of the very source of their wealth. This is the fate that the end of the book will imply for Wang Lung’s own family.

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The Old Lord Character Timeline in The Good Earth

The timeline below shows where the character The Old Lord appears in The Good Earth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
...the great house, and O-lan tells him that the young lords spend too much money, the Old Lord has many concubines, and the Old Mistress never stops eating opium. A daughter about to... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...them. Wang Lung says that the closer land has bad soil. He imagines going to the Old Lord as an equal and buying the land with his own money, and he thinks that... (full context)
Chapter 6
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...buying it wasn’t so wonderful as he’d imagined. When he got to the great house, the Old Lord was still asleep, and the gateman refused to wake him, because he was with a... (full context)
Chapter 8
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...and the Old Mistress wants the agent to sell land so she can have opium. The Old Lord has taken another concubine, as he desires younger women the older he gets. He can’t... (full context)
Chapter 16
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...identify himself. When he gives his name and the voice curses him, he realizes it’s the Old Lord . Wang Lung says he wants to talk to the agent, but the Old Lord... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...buy from the house, a woman (Cuckoo) suddenly opens the gates and lets him in. The Old Lord ’s formerly fine clothes are dirty, and Wang Lung can hardly believe that this person... (full context)
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...to stay so she wouldn’t be alone. Wang Lung realizes that she’s taking advantage of the Old Lord . Wang Lung says he can’t do business with a slave, but Cuckoo says that... (full context)
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...missed. The man tells him about the House of Hwang being robbed, and that only the Old Lord and the slave Cuckoo remain. For now, Cuckoo can control everything, but when the young... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
...the great house and speaks to Cuckoo at the gate. Once she assures him that the Old Lord will put his own seal on the deeds of sale, Wang Lung asks whether she... (full context)
Chapter 19
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...O-lan make his clothes, but goes to a tailor, and he buys shoes like those the Old Lord wore. He keeps the clothes at the tea shop, because he’s embarrassed for his family... (full context)
Chapter 22
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...seen the young lords in the House of Hwang act the same way, and when the Old Lord found women for them, their moodiness passed. Wang Lung protests that he didn’t have this... (full context)
Chapter 29
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...used to live here, and Wang Lung is pleased to hear her compare him to the Old Lord . (full context)
Chapter 33
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Eventually Cuckoo realizes that Pear Blossom has become Wang Lung’s concubine, and she’s reminded of the Old Lord . Wang Lung tells her he’s not sure how it happened, and she says someone... (full context)