The Good Earth

The Good Earth

The Good Earth Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the purchase, Wang Lung has more land and harvest than he can handle, so he adds a room to his house, buys a donkey, and asks Ching to move in and help him out. The rains come at the right time and in the right amount, so they have a harvest so great that Wang Lung has to hire two more men to bring it in.
The jewels, along with nature’s goodwill, really put Wang Lung over the edge of survival and into prosperity. Thus, though he does work hard, his success comes in great part from his good luck.
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Wang Lung makes his sons work in the fields with him to get them used to the labor. However, he no longer allows O-lan to work in the fields, since he can hire workers now. He builds another room to hold the harvests and buys more animals. O-lan makes new clothes and bedding until she gives birth to another child. She still wants to be alone when she gives birth. When Wang Lung gets home that night, he discovers that she’s had twins, a boy and a girl. He’s joyful and jokes that this was why she kept the two pearls.
Wang Lung hopes to avoid the Hwangs’ downfall by training his sons up to be farmers, but he doesn’t take into account that they need to love the land as much as he does in order to be truly dedicated to it. He feels that his social status is changing, and to fit with his new prosperity, he can’t have his wife working in the fields. However, he still struggles to believe that she might want the pearls just for their beauty.
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Wang Lung has no troubles at this time besides the fact that his eldest daughter never speaks, perhaps because she starved for her first year, and only smiles when she sees him. Wang Lung calls her his “poor little fool.” He’s glad he didn’t sell her, because her owners would have killed her. Sometimes he takes her into the fields with him.
On one hand, Wang Lung shows compassion in his love for his daughter. On the other, he seems to love her particularly because she’s silent and doesn’t seem to think, which could make her the ideal woman in this patriarchal culture.
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There are usually famines every five or ten years in this region due to flooding or drought. Wang Lung decides to become wealthy enough that he’ll be able to weather these hard years and not have to leave his land again. He has good harvests for seven years, eventually paying six laborers who live in a house behind his own. He expands his own house to form a courtyard. Ching acts as his steward, organizing the farm work. Ching remains very thin and quiet, but Wang Lung knows he can trust him to weed out dishonest or lazy workers. The two men become like brothers.
For the first time, Wang Lung makes wealth his explicit goal, though even now, he justifies it with his love of the land. By establishing a system of laborers with a steward over them, Wang Lung becomes no longer the simple farmer he once was, but instead puts himself on the path to becoming something of a businessman. Ching is the only man outside Wang Lung’s family whom he ever becomes particularly close to.
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Wang Lung eventually comes to work on the business end of the farm, rather than in the fields. However, he struggles because he can’t read, and he always has to have someone else read him the contracts when he sells his harvests. He’s ashamed that he doesn’t even know how to sign his own name, and the clerks laugh at him. He decides to send his eldest son to school so that he can deal with the contracts for his father. When Wang Lung announces his decision to his son, the boy is overjoyed. The second son doesn’t think it’s fair that his brother gets to go to school, so Wang Lung lets him go as well.
Wang Lung’s increasing prosperity pulls him away from the land, which is another step towards his imitation of the Hwangs, who would never consider working on the land themselves. Even so, Wang Lung’s ignorance of book learning acts as a constant reminder of his humble origins. Sending his sons to school puts his family on even more of an upward trajectory, as education can dramatically increase their social status.
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Wang Lung and O-lan outfit the boys with clothes and writing supplies. They are to attend a school run by an old teacher who beats his students with a fan. In warm weather, he falls asleep after lunch, and the students get into mischief. When he suddenly awakens, he beats the students with the fan, and the neighbors hear and say that he’s a good teacher. Wang Lung walks them to school on the first day and gives the teacher a bundle of eggs. He tells the man to beat them as much as necessary to make them learn.
Ironically, the teacher’s worth is judged by the degree to which he disciplines his students, rather than by how well he actually teaches. However, this suggests that school is meant to teach students a way of acting and a sense of respect just as much as it’s meant to teach actual academic subjects.
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On his way home, Wang Lung is filled with pride in his sons. When he passes a neighbor, he tells him his sons are going to school to learn to read. The teacher names the boys Nung En and Nung Wen in accordance with their father’s profession, as “Nung” means a person who makes their living from the land.
Wang Lung knows that his sons’ attendance at school signifies his family’s progress in the world. At the same time, the teacher’s names for the boys gesture to their permanent connection to the land, even if they don’t care much about it.
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