The Good Earth

The Good Earth

The Good Earth Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Wang Lung refuses to believe that bringing Lotus and Cuckoo into his house will cause conflict, even though O-lan and Cuckoo’s attitudes show that it does. As time passes and Lotus remains, his hunger for her decreases somewhat and he becomes more clear-sighted. He expected O-lan to hate Lotus, but instead he notices discord between O-lan and Cuckoo. Lotus begged Wang Lung to let her keep Cuckoo with her, as she’s all alone, and he could never have refused her this. Besides, O-lan is expected to ignore Lotus’s existence, and he doesn’t want his uncle’s wife to be her only company.
Wang Lung seems to be willfully blind, or simply doesn’t want to acknowledge that women have feelings and O-lan has reason to be angry. Even though Wang Lung is really to blame for betraying O-lan, O-lan directs her anger at Cuckoo instead. Now that he has what he wants, Wang Lung reverts to his dislike of his uncle’s wife, thinking her a bad influence on Lotus, though Cuckoo doesn’t seem like a much better influence.
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O-lan becomes unnaturally angry with Cuckoo. Cuckoo is willing to be friendly, 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 Lung what Cuckoo is doing there. He feels a mixture of shame and anger and can’t answer. When O-lan persists, he asks why she cares. She says that when they worked in the great house, Cuckoo always ordered her around and insulted her. When Wang Lung can find nothing to say, O-lan begins to cry. He remains silent, and she can only look at him and creep away. Wang Lung tells himself that other men are worse to their wives than he is.
O-lan’s past again rears its head. She has always expressed a need to triumph over her oppressors in the House of Hwang, and until now she has succeeded. But now, Cuckoo won’t let her forget that she was once a slave. By bringing Cuckoo into the household, Wang Lung essentially asks O-lan to be respectful towards someone who has abused her. He places his own needs far above hers and manages to rationalize his cruelty because he doesn’t want to acknowledge his faults.
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In the morning, O-lan refuses to leave hot water for Cuckoo or let her use the cauldron to boil her own. When Cuckoo complains, O-lan ignores her. Cuckoo goes to Wang Lung, who scolds O-lan. O-lan says she won’t be a slave to slaves. When he angers and shakes her, she accuses him of giving Lotus her pearls. This makes him ashamed, and he tells Cuckoo that he’ll build another kitchen for her to use. This satisfies Cuckoo, and Wang Lung feels that he can enjoy Lotus without worrying about this conflict.
O-lan finally takes a stand for herself. If Wang Lung is ascending to prosperity and the luxurious living that goes with it, why should she be forced to revert to her miserable life before her marriage? Giving her pearls to Lotus seems like the ultimate denial of O-lan’s bond with her husband, as they were part of the jewels that made him rich—that O-lan herself gave him.
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However, Cuckoo begins going to town every day to buy expensive foods to cook in the kitchen. Wang Lung doesn’t like her spending so much money, but doesn’t want to tell her this or dissatisfy Lotus. His worry makes him love Lotus a little less fiercely. Furthermore, his uncle’s wife begins to eat with Lotus and Cuckoo, and Wang Lung doesn’t like that Lotus is friends with this woman he doesn’t much like. When he tries to discourage Lotus from the friendship, she only complains about the hostility she faces in his house. She keeps him from her room and says he doesn’t want her to be happy, so he has to give in.
The conflicts within his household, which will plague Wang Lung until his death, begin to bring his passion down to earth. Having worked in the House of Hwang, Cuckoo is used to the wealthy spending their money with complete abandon. Though Wang Lung is not usually inclined to do this, Cuckoo’s presence tips his household a little more towards following in the footsteps of the House of Hwang. Meanwhile, Lotus proves herself manipulative and self-centered.
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Wang Lung becomes afraid to tell Lotus what to do, so she’s constantly talking to his uncle’s wife and makes him wait to see her, which makes him angry. He’s also angry that his uncle’s wife eats Lotus’s fine foods and gets fat, but she acts very courteously to him. His love for Lotus becomes shot through with irritation, and he can’t even talk to O-lan about it.
Wang Lung begins to lose his power over his household. In fact, he seems rather pitiful—as he suddenly wants to be able to talk to O-lan, but he’s already burned all his bridges with her. Having Lotus in his house isn’t as dreamy as he imagined.
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One day Wang Lung’s father, who’s usually oblivious to the world around him, discovers the doorway through which Lotus lives. Wang Lung hasn’t told him about her, since he’s almost deaf. He sees Wang Lung walking with Lotus in the court and cries out that she’s a harlot. Wang Lung leads him away and explains that she belongs to him, but his father keeps shouting that she’s a harlot, and that he and his father each only had one woman. He hates Lotus and periodically shouts or spits into her court. Wang Lung doesn’t want to scold him, but he also doesn’t want Lotus to be angry.
Wang Lung’s father represents his old, humble life as a farmer. He even references family tradition to justify his indignation at the presence of Lotus. His father’s reaction emphasizes Lotus’s status as a symbol of Wang Lung’s new wealth and the way it can lead to harmful decadence. Ironically, Wang Lung’s father insults Lotus for her perceived promiscuity but doesn’t directly blame Wang Lung for her presence, though it is his fault.
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One day Wang Lung hears Lotus scream and finds that the twins have brought his eldest daughter into her court. The younger children are always curious about Lotus, and she complains that they bother her, but he refuses to lock them out of her court and they go in when he’s not watching. This time, they’ve decided that their sister should see Lotus. When she sees Lotus’s bright clothes, she reaches for them and laughs, frightening Lotus. When Wang Lung comes, Lotus is angry and says that she’ll leave the house if she has to deal with children and an idiot.
Lotus and the eldest daughter make a pretty contrast, Lotus being very stormy in her moods and the eldest daughter being forever content with what goes on around her. Moreover, women are supposed to be mothers in this culture, so Lotus’s hatred of children is probably meant to seem unnatural, an indication that she’s not a “proper” woman, but instead an instrument of luxury.
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Wang Lung loves his children, and he gets angry. He says that if Lotus doesn’t love them, she doesn’t love him. He’s most angry that Lotus cursed his favored eldest daughter, and he stays away from Lotus for two days, instead playing with his children. When he goes back to her, she’s particularly kind to him. But even so, he never loves her as much as he did before. At the end of the summer, he looks out over his fields, which are no longer flooded, and he feels drawn to the land. He tears off his fancy clothes and calls for his farm tools, and he goes out to his fields.
Dedication to family finally wins out over Wang Lung’s destructive lust for Lotus. To his credit, he displays great loyalty to the daughter whom he once considered selling into slavery. His love for her in her simplicity seems to consistently help him find what really matters in life. Wang Lung’s return to the land marks a return to the essence of himself and an end to the blindness caused by his decadent passion.
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