The Good Earth

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The House of Hwang Symbol Analysis

The House of Hwang Symbol Icon

The House of Hwang represents the wealth and respect to which Wang Lung aspires, but also the danger of excess and degeneracy that goes along with it. Wang Lung is first entirely intimidated by the house and doesn’t know how to act within its bounds, as it represents a world far beyond that which he’s used to. Over the course of the book, the state of the house and those who live within it deteriorates while Wang Lung’s fortunes rise, though he never ceases to see the house as a marker of wealth due to its earlier greatness. When Wang Lung’s eldest son suggests that he rent the inner courts of the house, Wang Lung does so for the feeling of power that it gives him as he symbolically replaces the Hwang family whom he always regarded as far superior to him. Taking over the house marks the pinnacle of Wang Lung’s rise.

However, the house also embodies the cyclical nature of the story. The Hwangs had to leave their house because they frittered away all their money on luxuries and then were robbed by a band that included their own starving servants. When Wang Lung moves into the house, he and his family also fall into luxurious habits, and the uncle’s wife’s addiction to opium even mirrors the Old Mistress’s. The common people grumble of revolting against the rich when the eldest son drives them out of the outer courts. Finally, at the end of the book Wang Lung’s sons plan to sell his land, just as the Hwang family sold theirs before their downfall. Thus, Wang Lung’s move into the House of Hwang seems to set him in the footsteps of the Hwang family, not only in their prosperity, but also in their decline.

The House of Hwang Quotes in The Good Earth

The The Good Earth quotes below all refer to the symbol of The House of Hwang. 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 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 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 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 28 Quotes

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.

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The House of Hwang Symbol Timeline in The Good Earth

The timeline below shows where the symbol The House of Hwang 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
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...incense for the temple to the earth god. He heads towards the city wall, imagining the House of Hwang , where the woman he’s going to marry has been a slave. His father said... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung buys food and incense and then goes to the House of Hwang . But once he gets there, he’s too shy and nervous to go in. He’s... (full context)
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... (full context)
Chapter 2
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...he doesn’t want her to see the extreme difference in prosperity between his home and the House of Hwang , but instead he lies that tea leaves make his father’s cough worse. He stays... (full context)
Chapter 3
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
...has gotten used to O-lan’s silence. He insists that there must be another slave from the House of Hwang who could come help. He has never mentioned O-lan’s past life before, and she suddenly... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
O-lan says that when she goes back to the House of Hwang , she will bring her son. Both will be clad in new clothes, and she’ll... (full context)
Chapter 5
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
O-lan bakes fancy moon cakes like those eaten in the House of Hwang . When Wang Lung sees how beautiful they are, he’s very proud. His father wants... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...his fancy new clothes, and she and Wang Lung also dress well. They go to the House of Hwang . Wang Lung is gratified by the gateman’s amazement at the sight of his family.... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
...baby and eagerly asks how the visit went. O-lan whispers in shock that it seems the House of Hwang is lacking in money. The Old Mistress and the slaves were all wearing the same... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...his own money, and he thinks that O-lan, who used to be a slave in the House of Hwang , will instead be the wife of a man who owns the Hwangs’ land. O-lan... (full context)
Chapter 6
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...and decides that he’ll replace the stones at the corners set with the seal of the House of Hwang with his own name. But he doesn’t yet want other people to know that he’s... (full context)
Chapter 8
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
The land Wang Lung bought from the House of Hwang is the only field that bears crops, because it’s near the moat. Wang Lung sells... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
The fields of the House of Hwang haven’t borne harvests either, so the agent is desperately in need of Wang Lung’s silver.... (full context)
Chapter 10
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
They pass the gate to the House of Hwang . It’s locked, and a few people lie outside. Wang Lung hears one say that... (full context)
Chapter 16
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung decides to use the other jewels to buy more land from the House of Hwang . When he goes to the house, he pounds on the gates, but no gateman... (full context)
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...the shopkeeper in exchange for the news that he’s 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,... (full context)
Chapter 21
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...but never forgets that O-lan was only a kitchen slave when they both worked in the House of Hwang . She points out how their positions have reversed from that time. O-lan asks Wang... (full context)
Chapter 22
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...tells him that the beatings will do no good. She’s seen the young lords in the House of Hwang act the same way, and when the Old Lord found women for them, their moodiness... (full context)
Chapter 23
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...went to a prostitute (Yang) who lives in the remains of the great house ( the House of Hwang ). Wang Lung knows that only poor men go to this woman. He immediately heads... (full context)
Chapter 26
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...conscious, and one day she summons Cuckoo. She tells her that despite Cuckoo’s superiority in the House of Hwang , O-lan herself has been married and had sons, while Cuckoo remains a slave. Cuckoo... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...has Cuckoo arrange the wedding feast, telling her to make it as luxurious as in the House of Hwang . He invites everyone he knows and tells his uncle to invite anyone he wants,... (full context)
Chapter 28
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...his son isn’t one. His son says they could move into the inner courts of the House of Hwang , crying and saying he asks little of his father. Wang Lung is still ashamed... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung goes to the House of Hwang . There are common people everywhere in the courts, and an old man lives where... (full context)
Chapter 30
Family Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...this woman who now looks as weak as the Old Mistress used to look when the House of Hwang collapsed. (full context)
Chapter 32
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...whatever poor man he finds to marry her will be like he was, coming to the House of Hwang to marry a slave. He hasn’t thought of O-lan in years, and now he thinks... (full context)