The Good Earth

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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 1 Quotes

“Raise him,” said the old lady gravely to the gateman, “these obeisances are not necessary. Has he come for the woman?”

“Yes, Ancient One,” replied the gateman.

“Why does he not speak for himself?” asked the old lady.

“Because he is a fool, Ancient One,” said the gateman...

This roused Wang Lung and he looked with indignation at the gateman.

“I am only a coarse person, Great and Ancient Lady,” he said. “I do not know what words to use in such a presence.”

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), The Old Mistress (speaker), The gateman (speaker), O-lan
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung goes to the House of Hwang to fetch his new wife, O-lan, who works as a slave there. The gateman shows him into a great hall, where the Old Mistress is to present Wang Lung with O-lan, and Wang Lung falls onto his knees before her to show his respect.

This is Wang Lung’s first of many visits to the House of Hwang, and this first visit leaves a great impression on him, effectively setting the standard against which he will measure all future visits as he rises in status and receives greater respect in the house. On this visit, even the gateman, a servant himself, feels that Wang Lung is so far beneath him that he can insult Wang Lung even in front of the Old Mistress. Wang Lung himself admits that he’s completely in awe of the great house and its mistress, and that his much lower social status means he doesn’t know how to act here. This scene makes it clear that social status doesn’t depend only on wealth, but also on one’s way of bearing oneself. Wang Lung is not insulted directly for his poverty, but instead for the social acts that mark him out as ignorant.

Much later, Wang Lung will buy the house and sit where the old lady sits, quite aware of the symbolism in the act that shows how his fortunes have risen.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. The earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes.... Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together—together—producing the fruit of this earth—speechless in their movement together.

Related Characters: Wang Lung, O-lan
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 29-30
Explanation and Analysis:

After Wang Lung and O-lan have been married for a few months, O-lan runs out of tasks to do in the house and comes to help Wang Lung in the fields. Though marriage in this culture is a distinctly unequal institution, in that men have almost complete power over their wives, this scene is one of equal partnership. Wang Lung and O-lan rarely talk to each other, and they don’t talk in this scene, either, but their work shows a unity of mind and purpose that results from a natural affinity for each other rather than from long discussion and forced intimacy.

Significantly, this almost spiritual union between husband and wife comes from their work on the land. O-lan is really the only character who values the land as deeply as Wang Lung does, and in this scene they are joined by their care for the earth that gives them life. Buck emphasizes the cycle of life and death, writing of the generations of farmers that have come before this one, all of them dependent on the earth for life and eventually returning to it in death. Wang Lung and O-lan are part of this cycle, and they, too, will die one day; but their labor is given an elegant significance by the fact that they’re part of this traditional partnership with the earth. Furthermore, the earth deserves respect because of its constancy—no matter how the human world has changed or will change around it, the land remains more or less as it is, providing life for those who tend to it.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Wang Lung sat smoking, thinking of the silver as it had lain upon the table. It had come out of the earth, this silver, out of his earth that he ploughed and turned and spent himself upon. He took his life from this earth; drop by drop by his sweat he wrung food from it and from the food, silver. Each time before this that he had taken the silver out to give to anyone, it had been like taking a piece of his life and giving it to someone carelessly. But now... he saw the silver transmuted into something worth even more than itself—clothes upon the body of his son. And this strange woman of his, who worked about, saying nothing, seeming to see nothing, she had first seen the child thus clothed!

Related Characters: Wang Lung, O-lan, The Old Mistress
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Before O-lan gives birth to her first child, she tells Wang Lung that she plans to take the child (whom she assumes will be a son) to the House of Hwang to show him to the Old Mistress. She wants to clothe him well and present him triumphantly as a sign of her social ascendancy, as she used to be a slave in the house. Wang Lung thinks this is a wonderful idea, and he gives her the money for the clothes.

This passage essentially acts as Wang Lung’s meditation upon the land, money, family, and social status. He recognizes the life-giving quality of the earth, but he also sees how the earth produces money, and money produces objects that can both take care of his family and increase his importance in the eyes of others. Now that he has a family of his own, he feels that his work produces rewards that it never did before because he can see his family prosper directly because of his work. However, the fact that this passage comes directly after O-lan’s plan to impress the Old Mistress implies that Wang Lung also sees his son’s clothes as a mark of his status, which increases along with his wealth. He, too, was humiliated in front of the Old Mistress (though certainly to a lesser degree), and he would like to see his money go to salve that humiliation.

Finally, Wang Lung expresses amazement at O-lan’s inner life. O-lan is consistently a more complicated character than Wang Lung understands. It seems that because she’s a nearly silent woman, he thinks there’s nothing more to her than what he sees. However, he here realizes that she has dreams just like he does, even if she doesn’t always tell him about them.

Chapter 4 Quotes

There was more than enough [milk] for the child, greedy though he was, life enough for many children, and she let it flow out carelessly, conscious of her abundance. There was always more and more. Sometimes she lifted her breast and let it flow out upon the ground to save her clothing, and it sank into the earth and made a soft, dark, rich spot in the field. The child was fat and good-natured and ate of the inexhaustible life his mother gave him.

Related Characters: O-lan, The eldest son (Nung En)
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Not long after O-lan gives birth, she begins to work in the fields with Wang Lung again, now with their son lying on the ground nearby. She stops periodically to nurse him.

This passage connects O-lan’s fertility to that of the earth. At this point, Wang Lung’s crops are producing large harvests, and O-lan is filled with a similar overabundance of life. As she lets her milk flow into the ground, it’s as though she offers back to the earth the life that the family has received from it. Her milk nourishes the land, which will in turn continue to nourish the family. The passage offers images of a sweet prosperity, simpler than Wang Lung’s later financial prosperity. Their current prosperity is based on hard work, love, and vitality, and carries with it none of the bitter complications that financial prosperity does. The family’s life is simple, pure, and happy.

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.

Chapter 7 Quotes

The voice of his wife answered from the bed more feebly than he had ever heard her speak,

“It is over once more. It is only a slave this time—not worth mentioning.”

Wang Lung stood still. A sense of evil struck him. A girl! A girl was causing all this trouble in his uncle’s house. Now a girl had been born into his house as well.

Related Characters: O-lan (speaker), Wang Lung, The daughter / the eldest daughter (the poor fool), Wang Lung’s uncle
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung’s uncle comes to him to ask for money so that he can marry off his daughter, who’s been associating with men in a way that’s deemed inappropriate. Wang Lung doesn’t want to give him the money because he knows his uncle will waste it, but when he’s forced into it, he goes to fetch the money and finds that O-lan has just given birth.

The fact that the characters call girls “slaves” from the very moment of their births shows, perhaps more than anything else, the misogyny of this society. Even if they’re not literally sold into slavery, girls are destined to work their whole lives for their husbands. Furthermore, O-lan seems to despise herself for giving birth to a girl, and to despise the baby for being a girl. She hardly thinks Wang Lung even needs to know about the child. Her attitude shows that misogyny is so deep-seated in her culture that women often participate in their own oppression just as much as men oppress them.

Wang Lung, for his part, literally sees the girl as a sign of evil, though she’s only just been born and is hardly even aware of the world around her. This is quite a lot of baggage for a baby to carry from the moment of birth, simply because of her gender. Buck also fails to push back against this interpretation of the baby as a sign of evil, since the famine begins just after her birth, seeming to confirm Wang Lung’s prediction.

Chapter 8 Quotes

They cannot take the land from me. The labor of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I had bought with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), Wang Lung’s uncle
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

During the famine, the villagers believe, at the uncle’s urging, that Wang Lung has excess food that he’s storing for his family. They come and ransack his house to find it, but in fact there’s very little food. They leave Wang Lung feeling terribly distressed at the possibility of his family’s starvation, but he takes comfort in the fact that no one can steal his land.

This passage explains one of the reasons that Wang Lung always feels so intimately connected to his land: it’s more fully his than anything else, because he owns the land without question and it’s seemingly impossible for anyone to force it out of his possession. Thus, the land will always be there for him and will always provide the possibility of food and money.

After his last harvest, Wang Lung bought more land from the House of Hwang, which seemed potentially foolish since food was already scarce. However, he now feels confident that he made the right decision, even though his family is starving. The villagers could have stolen his money or food, but the land endures as his no matter what humans do. This lesson also shows why land is so important to wealth, and why the Hwangs begin to decline in earnest once they begin getting rid of their land.

Chapter 12 Quotes

...[O]nce when Wang Lung heard a young man... [say] that China must have a revolution and must rise against the hated foreigners, Wang Lung was alarmed and slunk away, feeling that he was the foreigner against whom the young man spoke with such passion. And when on another day he heard another young man speaking... and he said... that the people of China must unite and must educate themselves in these times, it did not occur to Wang Lung that anyone was speaking to him.

Related Characters: Wang Lung
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

When the family flees to the city to escape the famine, Wang Lung feels very different from the city people because he’s a country farmer and doesn’t know all the social rules of the city. He comes into contact with some of the political movements of the time, though he’s not educated or aware enough to understand them as such.

In this passage, Wang Lung encounters men speaking about one of the most important Chinese political debates of the nineteenth and early twentieth century: to what extent Europeans should be allowed influence in the country. However, his isolation in the countryside means that he doesn’t understand what the men are really talking about.

Wang Lung’s sense that he himself is a foreigner, rather than realizing the men are speaking against Europeans, gestures to a weakness within the Chinese nationalist political movement. How is China to unite as a culturally independent country against Western influence if rural peasants such as Wang Lung hardly even recognize themselves as Chinese? In other words, the cultural and economic divides within China work against the unification of its people against an outside threat.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Day by day beneath the opulence of this city Wang Lung lived in the foundations of poverty upon which it was laid. With the food spilling out of the markets, with the streets of the silk shops flying brilliant banners of black and red and orange silk to announce their wares, with rich men clothed in satin and in velvet, soft-fleshed rich men with their skin covered with garments of silk and their hands like flowers for softness and perfume and the beauty of idleness, with all of these for the regal beauty of the city, in that part where Wang Lung lived there was not food enough to feed savage hunger and not clothes enough to cover bones.

Related Characters: Wang Lung
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

As Wang Lung’s family and other families like theirs struggle for basic survival, begging or working physically exhausting jobs for barely any money, the city is filled with rich people enjoying all the luxuries it has to offer. This passage displays the yawning chasm between rich and poor, with few people in between and no way for the poor to work their way up in the world.

At Wang Lung’s home in the countryside, the poor farmers come into contact less often with the sort of wealth that Wang Lung sees every day in the streets of the city. In fact, in the countryside this kind of wealth seems to exist almost exclusively within the bounds of the House of Hwang. Thus, the farmers are less inclined to feel the unfairness of their poverty in comparison to others’ wealth, since almost everyone around them lives similarly to themselves.

In the city, on the other hand, the poor are faced every day with rich men enjoying themselves at the cost of the poor. Thus, it makes sense that movements such as Marxism, which encourages poor laborers to rise against the rich, are active in the city but not in the country. Buck’s description of social inequality in this passage seems to support such movements to redistribute wealth.

Chapter 14 Quotes

“The dead man is yourselves,” proclaimed the young teacher, “and the murderous one who stabs you when you are dead and do not know it are the rich and the capitalists, who would stab you even after you are dead. You are poor and downtrodden and it is because the rich seize everything.”

...[Wang Lung] listened in interest to hear further what the rich men had to do with this thing, that heaven would not rain in its season. And at last... Wang Lung grew bold and asked,

“Sir, is there any way whereby the rich who oppress us can make it rain so that I can work on the land?”

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

In the city, men on the streets sometimes give Wang Lung pamphlets and speak to crowds about various issues. One day, a man gives him a paper with a picture of a fat man stabbing a poor man. The speaker seems to be a Marxist, as he’s essentially discussing the oppression of the poor by the rich. Calling the rich “capitalists” also indicates that he’s suggesting an alternative to capitalism, which Marxism does.

Wang Lung has rarely thought of the rich as his enemy, instead living in awe of them and desiring to be more like them. Furthermore, he can’t understand the man’s speech the way the city laborers around him can, because he sees land as the way to acquire money. Marxism focuses on the proletariat, meaning people who work for a wage, rather than on farmers, whose prosperity depends greatly on the whims of nature. Buck thus seems to criticize Marxism here for ignoring a large portion of the population, or for rejecting those with the more “wholesome” lifestyle of depending on nature.

When the people finally do rise against the rich, they are probably inspired in part by men such as this one, who help root the idea in their minds. Wang Lung, however, can’t relate to the way he describes the world, so he’ll only get dragged along in the revolt rather than fully participating in it.

Chapter 16 Quotes

“If I could have two,” she went on humbly, “only two small ones—two small white pearls even...”

“Pearls!” he repeated, agape... Then Wang Lung... looked for an instant into the heart of this dull and faithful creature, who had labored all her life at some task at which she won no reward and who in the great house had seen others wearing jewels which she never even felt in her hand once.

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), O-lan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang, The Pearls
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the family returns to their land, Wang Lung discovers that O-lan has been hiding a packet of jewels that she stole from the great house in the city when the mob broke in. Wang Lung insists they must sell the jewels, but O-lan asks if she might keep two pearls.

This passage shows how rarely Wang Lung truly sees O-lan as a person, simply because she’s a woman, and a silent, uncomplaining one at that. O-lan has had very little happiness in her life, having been sold as a slave at an early age, treated badly in the House of Hwang, and then living as Wang Lung’s servant as much as his wife. However, this doesn’t mean that she doesn’t appreciate beauty just as much as anyone else, or have her own inner mysteries and desires. This moment makes Wang Lung see that O-lan is more complicated than he thought, and when he allows her to keep the pearls (that really belong to her anyway, since she obtained them) it bonds them together in their quest for a better life.

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.

Chapter 18 Quotes

...[N]ow, instead of [his money] passing from him like life blood draining from a wound, it lay in his girdle burning his fingers when he felt of it, and eager to be spent on this or that, and he began to be careless of it and to think what he could do to enjoy the days of his manhood.

Everything seemed not so good to him as it was before. The tea shop which he used to enter timidly, feeling himself but a common country fellow, now seemed dingy and mean to him.

Related Characters: Wang Lung
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

After many prosperous years, Wang Lung’s land floods and he finds himself with excess time on his hands. He becomes unhappy with O-lan and decides that he deserves to have a good time now that he’s made his fortune.

In this passage, the reader sees Wang Lung struggling with how to change his life to fit with his wealth. Until now, he’s always been constantly working to tend the land and make money. But now that he’s more or less achieved his goal, he feels lost. The idea of wealth is wonderful, but now that he has it he doesn’t know what to do with it.

Wang Lung’s sense of loss proves that wealth doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. When he was poor, he was thrilled with simple pleasures like O-lan’s cakes or a set of new clothes. Now, he’s dissatisfied with everything around him, expecting greater things from his wealth, and his search for satisfaction will only lead him into decadence and familial discord.

Chapter 19 Quotes

His good brown body that he washed but rarely, deeming the clean sweat of his labor washing enough for ordinary times, his body he now began to examine as if it were another man’s, and he washed himself every day...

He bought sweet-smelling soap in the shop, a piece of red scented stuff from foreign parts, and he rubbed it on his flesh, and not for any price would he have eaten a stalk of garlic, although it was a thing he had loved before, lest he stink before [Lotus].

Related Characters: Wang Lung, Lotus
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

As Wang Lung labors under his great passion for Lotus, he becomes a changed man, to the point that his family doesn’t understand what’s happened to him. The actions detailed in this passage indicate that Wang Lung is trying to become someone different than who he has been, someone who he thinks will satisfy Lotus, and in the process he must deny the person he has been his entire life.

In washing every day, Wang Lung seems to be trying to wash away his former self. His farming life, as represented by his sweat, is no longer satisfactory to him, because he doesn’t think it’s satisfactory to Lotus. Similarly, though he’s hardly even acknowledged the existence of the world outside of where he himself lives, he suddenly buys soap from somewhere far away, which seems like a symbolic severing of his formerly deep-rooted connection with his home. Finally, he stops eating garlic. Garlic is a traditional food of the farming class, so in denying himself garlic, he attempts to act as someone of higher social status, rather than as who he really is.

Wang Lung makes all of these changes to himself in an attempt to seem more refined and act in a way that he thinks denotes a superior social standing, hoping to impress Lotus and make her desire him. In fact, this essentially marks the beginning of his dissatisfaction with the simple fact of his wealth, and his enduring need to act in a way fitting to someone wealthy. However, denying his roots only ever causes problems for Wang Lung, and the wealthy don’t necessarily act in beneficial ways.

Chapter 20 Quotes

And Wang Lung... felt his mouth suddenly dry and parched and his voice came from him in a whisper,

“Silver, then! Silver and gold! Anything to the very price of my land!”

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), Wang Lung’s uncle, Lotus, Cuckoo
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

When his uncle forces his family on Wang Lung, he overhears his uncle’s wife telling O-lan that Wang Lung is going to buy another woman. Wang Lung hadn’t actually thought of this before, but now he’s set on buying Lotus. The uncle’s wife says that Cuckoo will certainly sell Lotus if he offers enough money.

This passage shows how desperate Wang Lung’s lust for Lotus has made him, and how different he’s become from the man he was before he fell in love. He used to be somewhat thrifty with his money, since he worked so hard to earn it, and he certainly never considered letting his land go. Even when his family was on the brink of death from starvation, Wang Lung refused to sell his land to buy them food.

Now, Wang Lung seems earnestly ready to sell his land in order to buy Lotus. This change signifies a greater change that wealth brings upon him—a surrender to his desire for luxury and satisfaction in all aspects of life, and a drawing away from the land that he used to treasure above all else. This moment is only one extreme of a broader severing of his ties to the land as he becomes wealthy enough to hire others to work it for him.

Chapter 22 Quotes

As he had been healed of his sickness of heart when he came from the southern city and comforted by the bitterness he had endured there, so now again Wang Lung was healed of his sickness of love by the good dark earth of his fields and he felt the moist soil on his feet and he smelled the earthy fragrance rising up out of the furrows he turned for the wheat.

Related Characters: Wang Lung, Lotus
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

After Wang Lung sees Lotus lash out at his children, his passion for her finally cools. When the floods recede from his land, goes out to the fields and begins to work as he hasn’t in a long time.

As always, the land heals Wang Lung of whatever trouble he’s having. In this case, his corrupting love for Lotus has gotten in the way of his loyalty to the land and caused him to stray from the principles that he was raised with as a farmer, instead leading him into the unhealthy excesses of the wealthy.

The land acts as an antidote to the sins that money invites, as it’s a life-giving force that continues to exist no matter what, for all people. Thus, it’s always there for Wang Lung to return to once he comes to his senses, and now he returns to it with his whole body, seeing its color, feeling it on his bare feet, and smelling its healthy scent. As he helps the earth create life in his crops, the earth gives him life in turn.

Chapter 24 Quotes

But [O-lan] rose at dawn and she did her work and Wang Lung saw her only as he saw the table or his chair or a tree in the court, never even so keenly as he might see one of the oxen drooping its head or a pig that would not eat.... And she said nothing but she worked at her cooking and at the washing at the pool even in the winter when the water was stiff with ice to be broken. But Wang Lung never thought to say,

“Well, and why do you not with the silver I have to spare, hire a servant or buy a slave?”

Related Characters: Wang Lung, O-lan
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung deals with problems within his family and in his fields, and through it all O-lan remains constant, performing the work that Wang Lung expects of her. However, she’s also become ill without Wang Lung realizing it. In fact, this passage shows that Wang Lung hardly notices her at all.

Wang Lung’s society expects women to perform their duties quietly and without complaint, and it also expects wives to do whatever is needed to keep their household running smoothly. Yet O-lan receives no praise or reward when she conforms to these expectations as perfectly as she does. Instead, her silence makes her fade into the background. Of course, this is mostly Wang Lung’s fault, as he’s abandoned her for Lotus and dismissed her value entirely when he began to see her as ugly. He fails to appreciate her and won’t realize how essential her work is until she grows ill in earnest and can no longer do it.

Furthermore, this passage demonstrates that the practice of calling all girls “slaves” from the moment of birth is really an accurate custom. Even though O-lan is no longer technically a slave, she still must work as though she is, receiving no compensation or even appreciation. Wang Lung never thinks to use his wealth to ease her burden because he essentially thinks of her as a slave, part of the landscape that he doesn’t need to think about rather than as a member of his family. Essentially, this passage is emblematic of the broader treatment of women throughout the book.

Chapter 25 Quotes

...[M]y mother said I was not to weep aloud because you are too kind and weak for pain and you might say to leave me as I am, and then my husband would not love me even as you do not love her.

Related Characters: The second daughter (speaker), Wang Lung, O-lan
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung visits Liu and engages his second daughter to Liu’s son. When he returns home, he notices that his daughter has been crying, and she tells him that it’s because her bound feet hurt.

Foot binding was practiced in parts of China for centuries. Because small, dainty feet were considered beautiful, girls’ feet would be broken and bound tightly with cloth so that they could never grow large. O-lan’s feet were not bound, and when Wang Lung grows wealthy and thus picky, he criticizes her feet in particular. O-lan then binds her daughter’s feet in hopes that her daughter’s husband will love her more than she thinks Wang Lung loves her.

In this scene, his daughter’s uncomprehending honesty makes Wang Lung finally begin to realize the betrayal that he has practiced on O-lan. He has rejected her for her appearance rather than valuing her for her wisdom and faithfulness, and she’s so obedient that she doesn’t even try to make him see his wrongdoing. Instead, she puts her daughter through physical pain in the hopes that she can avoid the emotional pain that O-lan herself experiences.

Even as O-lan acts in reaction to Wang Lung’s cruelty, she still sees him as “kind and weak,” expecting him to stop the foot binding if he realizes how painful it is. Thus, she seems to blame herself for her ugliness, rather than blaming Wang Lung for his superficial judgment of her. O-lan experiences her society’s misogyny in all the worst ways, and yet she never seems to fight the wrongs done to her.

Chapter 28 Quotes

Then Wang Lung’s uncle took it greedily, for it was sweet to smell and a thing that only rich men used, and he took it and bought a pipe and he smoked the opium, lying all day upon his bed to do it. Then Wang Lung saw to it that there were pipes bought and left here and there... and the silver for this Wang Lung did not begrudge because it bought him peace.

Related Characters: Wang Lung, Wang Lung’s uncle
Related Symbols: Opium
Page Number: 281-82
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung’s uncle’s family becomes so troublesome, with the uncle threatening to set his robber band on the house and the uncle’s son molesting Wang Lung’s daughter, that Wang Lung decides his only choice is to get the uncle’s family addicted to opium. Opium acts as a narcotic, subduing the user’s energy and causing strange dreams.

However, opium is also regarded as a luxury. The uncle is eager to accept the opium partly for this reason, since he sees it as a toy of the wealthy and he wants to live in the comfort of the wealthy. Though it’s very expensive, Wang Lung would rather spend the money on keeping his uncle’s family quiet than spend it on giving them everything they ask for.

Additionally, opium is associated with the House of Hwang, as the Old Mistress smoked copious amounts of it. In fact, her constant desire for opium contributed to the family’s loss of their fortune. Thus, Wang Lung should perhaps be more cautious about bringing opium into his household, since it adds to the ways in which his family imitates the Hwangs, who ended in ruin.

Now Wang Lung in the old days when the great family were there would have felt himself one of these common people and against the great and half hating, half fearful of them. But now that he had land and that he had silver and gold hidden safely away, he despised these people who swarmed everywhere, and he said to himself that they were filthy and he picked his way among them with his nose up and breathing lightly because of the stink they made. And he despised them and was against them as though he himself belonged to the great house.

Related Characters: Wang Lung
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang
Page Number: 291-92
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung’s eldest son wants his father to rent the House of Hwang so the family can move there. Wang Lung goes to inspect the house and has to walk through the commoners living in the outer courts to reach the inner courts, where he could live.

Wang Lung’s response to the commoners shows that he has to some extent forgotten his roots and become just as proud and arrogant as the Old Mistress and the gateman were on his first visit to the House of Hwang. The passage suggests that there’s no fundamental difference between Wang Lung and the commoners whom he disdains. In fact, they’re just the same, since he used to be one of them. Only his money makes him think that he’s better than they are.

Wang Lung’s whole life story serves to show that the rich aren’t divinely chosen; the rich are normal people who in some cases are particularly hard workers, but in general just get lucky.

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.

Chapter 30 Quotes

...[T]hese common people found that the rent for the rooms and the courts where they lived had been greatly raised... and they had to move away. Then they knew it was Wang Lung’s eldest son who had done this...

The common people had to move, then, and they moved complaining and cursing because a rich man could do as he would and they... went away swelling with anger and muttering that one day they would come back even as the poor do come back when the rich are too rich.

Related Characters: Wang Lung, The eldest son (Nung En)
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:

Wang Lung’s eldest son wants the family to take over the outer courts of the house, rather than staying confined to the inner courts. He thinks it isn’t socially respectable for them to be living in such close quarters with commoners. Thus he offers a higher rent to the Hwangs so that they’ll evict the commoners. Wang Lung doesn’t explicitly play a role in this event, but he lets his son do as he wants and never protests.

The eldest son’s actions are despicable in any circumstances, but particularly in light of the fact that his own family—and he himself—used to be in the position of the commoners. In the city, Wang Lung’s family lived in poverty up against the wall of a wealthy house, just as these commoners do. But neither Wang Lung nor his son pays any heed to this past of theirs, preferring to dwell on their current prosperity instead.

Furthermore, Wang Lung doesn’t seem to have learned anything from his experience as a commoner. In the city, the people struggling around him used the very same phrase that’s used in this passage, “when the rich are too rich,” to justify their revolt against the wealthy and their ransacking of the great house. This book works in cycles, and this phrase represents the cycle of poverty and revolt against it. And with the Marxist ideas that Wang Lung heard in the city floating around, revolt against his own family might come sooner rather than later.

Chapter 33 Quotes

...[H]e had been of half a mind to walk out on his land and feel the good earth under his feet and take off his shoes and stockings and feel it on his skin.

This he would have done but he was ashamed lest men see him, who was no longer held a farmer within the gates of the town, but a landowner and a rich man.

Related Characters: Wang Lung
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis:

When Wang Lung is lusting after Pear Blossom, he becomes restless with desire and considers going out to his land from his house in the town. However, he now feels that his social status doesn’t accommodate visits to his land; the land is for the poor farmers and laborers, and people might lose their respect for him if they saw him going into the territory of these lower-class people.

Wang Lung’s hesitancy to go to his land indicates perhaps the most dangerous stage of his symbolic replacement of the Hwang family. Throughout the book, the land has acted as a healing force and as the source of wealth and life. Characters have repeatedly warned that when a family grows disconnected from their land, their fortunes fall rapidly. This is exactly what happened to the Hwangs, as Wang Lung well knows, considering that he benefited from their sale of their land.

Essentially, Wang Lung’s concern for social propriety is taking precedence over his connection to his beloved land. If he doesn’t go out to the land, it can’t heal him of his attachment to the vices of wealth as it has in the past.

Chapter 34 Quotes

Every man I hate except you—I have hated every man, even my father who sold me. I have heard only evil of them and I hate them all.... I am filled with loathing and I hate them all. I hate all young men.

Related Characters: Pear Blossom (speaker), Wang Lung
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

Pear Blossom becomes Wang Lung’s concubine and then more of a simple companion. One day he asks her why she’s so afraid of men, and she answers that she hates them all. She gives no particular reason for her hatred, but all of the misogyny portrayed throughout the story provides a pretty good idea of why a woman would hate men.

Ironically, Pear Blossom says that she hates “even [her] father who sold [her],” as though this hatred seems particularly odd. However, it makes perfect sense that she would hate a father who showed that he loved her so little that he could say goodbye to her forever and leave her in slavery. In fact, this early experience provides a concrete reason for her hatred of men, as it probably showed her how little they value and respect women.

But Pear Blossom’s attitude is almost more powerful in its vagueness. As she doesn’t point to any particular explanation for her hatred, it allows her emotion to apply to all of the men in the book and all of their awful acts against women, even the ones for which she wasn’t present. In a book whose female characters generally accept and perpetuate their own oppression, Pear Blossom stands out as a woman who recognizes, on some level, that she deserves better from men.

“Now, evil, idle sons—sell the land!” He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him and held him up, and he began to weep.... “It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land,” he said brokenly. “Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land—”

...And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered,

“If you sell the land, it is the end.”

...And they soothed him and they said over and over, the elder son and the second son,

“Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.”

But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), The eldest son (Nung En), The second son (Nung Wen)
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 357
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage occurs at the very end of the book, when Wang Lung follows his sons out onto the land and overhears them discussing how best to sell the land and divide the money.

All of Wang Lung’s life experience has taught him that land is the most important possession. The land is to be worshiped and loved, and in return it will take care of a family. The land gives life and heals, and when a family turns away from it, as the Hwangs did, the family won’t last long. Furthermore, Wang Lung knows that the land in itself is immovable wealth, and it also produces wealth—including all of the wealth that Wang Lung has acquired, and that now puts his sons in the position of considering selling the land.

Furthermore, Wang Lung now finds his sons, his own flesh and blood, betraying his sincerest wish. He’s struggled with his family plenty in the past, and even experienced his uncle’s family’s extreme betrayals of him, but he’s always had control of the land, his most important possession. Now, with death approaching, he knows that he will soon be powerless to prevent his sons from making what he sees as the worst possible mistake.

On a more symbolic level, the very title of the book is The Good Earth, gesturing to the land. Thus, if the land is sold, the family is stripped of its story and becomes immediately nonexistent, no longer connected to the one constant element of the world—the earth.

However, another possible interpretation of this ending exists. Wang Lung has always ignored the goings-on of the world around him, preferring to remain as unmoved as the land itself. As a result, he’s very traditional in a rapidly changing world. His sons, on the other hand, are more attuned to progress and political events. The world does change, and it’s possible that the sons know that the economy is changing, too, and farming may no longer be the most practical way to make money. In this interpretation, Wang Lung clings foolishly to the past as he goes to his grave and the world sweeps on without him.

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