Wang Lung might have spent all his money if his uncle didn’t suddenly turn up at his door as the family eats breakfast one day. Wang Lung is astonished, having practically forgotten his uncle was still alive. He invites his uncle to eat with them, and he eats a large quantity of food. Then he announces that he needs to sleep, and Wang Lung has to put him in his father’s bed. His uncle looks at the furniture and remarks on Wang Lung’s wealth. He acts as though everything belongs to him, and he goes to sleep.
Wang Lung’s uncle is always looking for ways to be comfortable without having to work for it, and the responsibility required by family ties is one of his favorite ways to take advantage. He interprets this responsibility as meaning that everything that belongs to Wang Lung belongs to him also, even though he has done nothing to deserve it.
Wang Lung realizes that his uncle will never leave, since he now knows that Wang Lung can take care of him. When his uncle wakes up, he says he’s going to get his wife and son, since Wang Lung can feed and clothe them all easily. Wang Lung can’t do anything about it, since he knows he’ll be shamed in the village if he drives out his own family. He makes room for them, and they move in. Wang Lung is very angry but has to pretend to welcome them. After a few days of anger, O-lan tells him they have to bear the situation.
Unlike the last time his uncle came demanding aid, Wang Lung now really does have the resources to support his uncle. However, this doesn’t mean that it won’t tighten his finances. He cares so much about his social standing, though, that he can’t transgress the rules around family responsibility for fear of losing the status he’s gained by becoming wealthy.
Wang Lung feels that since he can have no comfort in his own house, he has to find it with Lotus. His uncle’s wife immediately sees that he’s in love with another woman, and she tells O-lan. Wang Lung overhears. His uncle’s wife says that she knows the signs of a man in love, and one woman can never be enough for a man, especially if the woman is as hard-working as O-lan. O-lan needs to accept that Wang Lung is going to buy another woman.
The uncle’s wife’s perception of Wang Lung’s love implies that she’s more closely acquainted with vice than O-lan. Ironically, men say they want hard-working wives, but the uncle’s wife implies that working hard actually makes women less attractive to their husbands. Women really can’t win either way in this book.
Wang Lung suddenly realizes he must satisfy his desire for Lotus by buying her and bringing her to live with him. He speaks to his uncle’s wife privately, seeking her approval of his plan, which she gives eagerly. She tells him she can make the arrangements for him. He tells her Lotus’s name, though it seems to him that everyone must know who she is, and he tells her where Lotus lives and that Cuckoo is in charge of the house. The uncle’s wife sees that her task will be easy, since Cuckoo will do anything for money. Wang Lung says he would give even his land for Lotus.
Wang Lung doesn’t care in the least that his betrayal has been revealed to O-lan and is probably causing her great pain. Instead, he thinks only that he’s found a way to have Lotus all the time, thus betraying O-lan even further. His uncle’s wife expresses no sympathy for O-lan either, but in fact works against her, exposing a lack of female solidarity. Wang Lung’s willingness to lose his land shows the depth of his abandonment of his former self.
Wang Lung is afraid to go to the tea house until Lotus is his. He thinks he’ll kill himself if he can’t have her. His uncle’s wife grows impatient with his worrying. Wang Lung forces O-lan to constantly clean the house, and she becomes terrified, knowing what’s happening. Wang Lung can’t stand sleeping with her. He has his men build another court of rooms, though they don’t understand why. He decorates the rooms lavishly, and his uncle’s wife helps him. He doesn’t speak of it to O-lan or Ching.
Wang Lung becomes even crueler to O-lan, making her clean in preparation for the coming of the woman who has replaced her in his heart. His secrecy around the preparations, particularly from Ching, whom he respects, shows that some part of him is embarrassed. Instead he associates with the uncle’s wife, whom he hates under normal circumstances.
Wang Lung waits impatiently for Lotus, so he has a man build a goldfish pool for the center of the court. Then he’s impatient again. He’s always harsh to his family now, and one day O-lan begins weeping more passionately than he’s ever seen. She can only repeat that she has given him sons. Wang Lung feels bad, knowing he has no good reason to be angry with her. Finally, his uncle’s wife announces the price that Cuckoo and Lotus demand. Wang Lung is overjoyed and gives her the money, rewarding her with some for herself as well. He buys delicacies and waits.
Wang Lung is almost going crazy out of desire for Lotus. O-lan has borne so much suffering—as in the famine—without any indication of discouragement, but this situation drives her to wild tears. She feels that she has held up her end of the marriage by birthing sons, and so Wang Lung has no right to turn against her. Wang Lung has always been careful with money, but he spends with abandon now.
Eventually Lotus arrives, carried in a sedan chair across the fields and followed by Cuckoo. Wang Lung is suddenly afraid and hides in his room until his uncle’s wife calls to him. He comes out ashamedly, and Cuckoo greets him. She tells Lotus to come out of the covered chair. Wang Lung can’t stand the laughing faces of the common men from town who carried the chair, but then he sees Lotus and forgets everything else. Lotus steps out of the chair, not speaking to him but only asking Cuckoo where her rooms are. Cuckoo and the uncle’s wife lead her to them. Wang Lung has sent everyone else away from the house.
Wang Lung does realize, on some level, that his actions are worthy of shame, but his pride and desire overpowers everything else. Ironically, he fears the judgment of the lower-class men, perhaps because he knows he used to be one of them, and the reminder makes him remember that in his past life, he would have laughed at his current actions, too. The fact that he’s sent his household away also proves that he’s embarrassed of what he’s doing.
When Wang Lung’s uncle’s wife emerges, she tells him that Lotus isn’t as young as she appears, and if she were younger, she probably wouldn’t have come to live with him. Seeing Wang Lung’s anger, she adds that Lotus is very beautiful and will make him happy. After a while, Wang Lung works up the courage to go to Lotus, and he stays there all day.
The uncle’s wife provides the impartial perspective on Lotus that the reader has not yet received, as the narration only gives Wang Lung’s perspective. The truth adds to the sense that Wang Lung is acting foolishly, blinded by his carnal desire.
O-lan finally returns at night with the children and goes through her normal routine without Wang Lung. He now spends all of his time with Lotus. Lotus has commanded that Cuckoo stay on as her servant and take care of her, and Cuckoo lives in the court with her. Lotus lies in bed all day eating delicacies. In the evening she sends Wang Lung away and Cuckoo bathes and dresses her. Then she walks into the court and looks at the goldfish pond. Wang Lung most admires her tiny feet. His desire is finally satisfied.
Wang Lung has split his family in order to satisfy himself. O-lan and the children go about their life as usual, but Wang Lung no longer wants to be part of it. He essentially begins a second household adjacent to his original family. Cuckoo has always been a sinister influence, so her intimacy with Lotus bodes ill. Lotus indulges in the luxury that only wealth can bring without a second thought.