The next morning, Wang Lung feels luxurious as he watches O-lan get dressed. He’s surprised that her face looks the same as it did before, since he feels like their wedding night has changed him. He tells her to bring his father hot water, and she asks whether to put tea leaves in it. He wants to say yes, because 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 in bed, but long habit of getting up early prevents him from sleeping more.
Even though traditionally, sex is supposed to transform a virgin woman into a whore (if unmarried) or a wife, Wang Lung is the one who feels changed, while O-lan seems just the same, countering this cultural narrative. Wang Lung has already begun comparing himself to the House of Hwang, something that will drive his ambition for years. He also shows his eagerness to appear better than his station.
Lying in bed, Wang Lung finds himself wondering whether O-lan likes him and enjoyed their night. He’s very happy with her body and is ashamed to discover that he wants her to like him. She brings him tea but is afraid she shouldn’t have used the tea leaves. Wang Lung is glad she’s afraid of him and approves of the tea leaves, and he decides that O-lan does like him.
In his current simplicity, Wang Lung can find beauty in O-lan’s body though she isn’t conventionally beautiful. Furthermore, his desire for her approval implies that he doesn’t feel as naturally superior to her as he’s supposed to. This is an oddly romantic scene, as opposed to the lust of the previous night.
Over the next few months, Wang Lung works hard in his fields, but he always watches O-lan, and he takes great pleasure in going home to a clean house and food already prepared. In the mornings, O-lan gathers fuel for the stove from the countryside, so they never have to buy any. In the afternoons, she gathers animal manure for fertilizer. She works hard without being told to do anything, mending clothes and cleaning bedding. However, she rarely speaks, and though Wang Lung wonders about her life before she came to him, it isn’t fitting for him to be interested in a woman’s life.
Though O-lan has worked in a rich house, she immediately adapts to Wang Lung’s way of life, doing everything she can to support his frugality. She acts as an ideal wife: silent, undemanding, and dutiful. Again, Wang Lung can’t manage to see himself as so superior to his wife that he can quell his curiosity about her. Despite the demands of his society, his instincts want him to recognize her as a whole person with a story of her own.
Since she’s used to working in a busy house, O-lan quickly runs out of tasks, so one day she comes out to Wang Lung in the fields and begins hoeing alongside him. As hours pass and it becomes hot, the two fall into a peaceful union with each other and the earth. People have lived here and been buried here for ages, and they are part of this cycle of the land. When the sun sets, Wang Lung looks at O-lan, who is dirty and sweaty. She says nonchalantly that she’s pregnant. Wang Lung feels joyful and tells her to stop working.
As with the scene in the temple, this is another scene of the earth joining Wang Lung and O-lan together in partnership. In this moment, they seem like equals. Buck stresses the constancy of the land as the human world changes around it, and immediately Wang Lung and O-lan become part of this cycle of birth and death when O-lan announces her pregnancy.
They go home, where Wang Lung’s father is impatient for his dinner. Wang Lung tells him that O-lan is pregnant, trying not to show his excitement. The old man is happy at the news, but quickly forgets it in his hunger. Wang Lung sits on a bench and marvels at the fact that he has created life.
Wang Lung’s father expects total care as an elder (an important aspect of his culture) and focuses primarily on his own bodily needs, while Wang Lung represents a younger, more vivacious stage of life, and his thoughts turn to the very beginning of a human life.