The Good Earth

The Good Earth Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lotus pouts at the fact that Wang Lung pays attention to anything other than her. He laughs and tells her that he’s thinking about how to find a respectable wife for his son. Lotus likes the eldest son now, and she tells Wang Lung about a man who used to come to her at the tea house and speak of his daughter, who reminded him of her. He was polite and fair with his money.
Lotus’s need for attention contrasts highly with O-lan’s silence that endures even when she gives birth. The fact that the girl Lotus recommends for the eldest son has been likened to Lotus herself might not bode well for the marriage. Though Lotus provides pleasure, she’s not the hardworking wife type.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Lotus calls Cuckoo in to ask what the man’s profession was, and Cuckoo identifies him as Liu, a grain dealer. When she tells Wang Lung where Liu’s market is, he realizes he sells his own grain there, and he thinks he might actually be able to marry his son to Liu’s daughter. Lotus urges him to send Cuckoo to make the arrangements, and Cuckoo says she’ll go immediately. However, Wang Lung wants to think about it for a while yet, and he makes them wait.
Wang Lung likes the idea of joining his son to someone who’s connected to his own wealth. He used to make snap decisions, such as when he bought land from the Hwangs, but now that he’s more secure in his way of life he never seems to do anything without thinking it over thoroughly.
Themes
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
One morning, the eldest son comes home drunk and sick. Wang Lung discovers him, and O-lan washes him and puts him to bed. Wang Lung questions the younger son as to where the older one was, but the boy doesn’t want to tell him, because his brother has threatened him. In the face of Wang Lung’s rage, however, the boy finally admits that his brother has gone out for three nights with Wang Lung’s uncle’s son, but he doesn’t know where.
The eldest son finally seems to be giving in to the debauchery that wealth allows. In contrast, Wang Lung wouldn’t even try the wine at the fancy tea shop until Cuckoo urged him into it. The uncle’s family seems to be again causing trouble in Wang Lung’s household.
Themes
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Wang Lung finds his uncle’s son in his uncle’s rooms, also drunk. He questions the young man, who at first refuses to give a straight answer, but is finally frightened by Wang Lung’s anger and admits that they 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 for the great house, hardly seeing his fields as he walks.
Wang Lung is bothered, somewhat hypocritically, by the idea of his son going to a prostitute. However, he’s most disturbed by the fact that association with this particular prostitute is below his son’s class status. Ironically, the prostitute lives in the House of Hwang, showing how far the great house has fallen.
Themes
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Get the entire The Good Earth LitChart as a printable PDF.
The good earth.pdf.medium
The gates of the house are never closed now, and families of common people rent the rooms. It’s all dirty. Wang Lung asks the way to the whore named Yang, but when he knocks on her door she says she’s not working now. He keeps knocking, and finally a woman wearing makeup opens the door. She tells him to come back later, but Wang Lung says he’s come about his eldest son. He describes him to her, and she remembers the boy and his cousin. Wang Lung tells him that he’ll pay her double if she’ll refuse his son the next time he comes to her. She agrees to the deal, and Wang Lung leaves quickly, sickened by her.
Whereas the gates of the House of Hwang used to expressly keep out the commoners, including Wang Lung himself, they are now open to any who wish to enter, symbolizing the Hwangs’ fall from the exclusivity of greatness. This is the first time Wang Lung enters the house and knows he’s socially superior to everyone in it. Wang Lung finds Yang disgusting simply because of her base surroundings, even though she does essentially the same job that Lotus did.
Themes
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
The very same day, Wang Lung tells Cuckoo to go to Liu and arrange his son’s marriage. He watches over his sleeping son, thinking with disgust of the whore. O-lan comes in and wipes away the boy’s sweat. Then Wang Lung goes to his uncle’s room and lashes out at him. When he tells his uncle what’s happened, the man laughs and says it’s only natural. Wang Lung suddenly remembers all of his grievances against his uncle and says he and his family must leave. When his uncle doesn’t move, Wang Lung goes to hit him. His uncle opens his coat and reveals a false red beard and a piece of red cloth. Wang Lung is frightened, because these signify a robber band that has destroyed many people’s lives. He leaves without a word.
Wang Lung feels that marrying his son off will allow him to act out his lusts in a healthier, more socially acceptable way. His uncle, however, still has no moral compass and sees no problem with the son going to a prostitute. Finally, familial duty is no longer enough to make Wang Lung put up with having to support his uncle’s family. The uncle now tries to blackmail him in another way—by implying that he’ll set the robber band of which he’s a part onto Wang Lung’s house if he throws him out.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung finds himself in a more uncomfortable situation than ever. His uncle acts just as he always has, and Wang Lung has to be nice to him for fear of what he might do otherwise. Even when Wang Lung has had plenty of wealth while other people starved, bandits have never attacked his house, though he’s always been afraid that they would. He’d begun to think the gods were protecting him, but now he knows the real reason why he’s been fortunate. He doesn’t tell anyone what his uncle showed him.
Wang Lung is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he throws his uncle out, he’ll have to fear the robbers, but if he allows his uncle to stay, he’ll never have peace in his house. Furthermore, Wang Lung realizes he’s in debt to this uncle whom he hates, and if his uncle’s connection to the robber band became known, he could be socially disgraced.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung tries to be particularly courteous to his uncle’s family, even giving them extra money. He keeps his eldest son inside in the evenings, which makes the boy irritable. Wang Lung considers moving into the town, where the walls protect against robbers, but he realizes he’d still have to come out to work in the fields. He could turn his uncle in to the law, but he would probably not be believed, and could even be punished for being cruel to his family. Besides, the robbers might kill him.
Wang Lung gives in to the blackmailing for the moment, as he sees no other option. Duty to family runs so deep in the culture that it seems even the law enforces it, giving Wang Lung no way to escape from his uncle’s evil influence.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Liu agrees to the marriage of his daughter to Wang Lung’s eldest son, but wants to wait another three years, which worries Wang Lung. He tells O-lan they must betroth their other children as soon as possible to avoid this same trouble. The next morning, he goes out to his fields, and when he passes his eldest daughter, he thinks that she causes him the least trouble out of any of his children. Wang Lung works in the fields for many days, and the land heals him.
Wang Lung fears that his son will get into more trouble if he can’t have a wife for three more years. Though he once considered selling his eldest daughter, he’s now fonder of her than of any of his children, essentially because she has no will or agency of her own, and only brings him pleasure instead of trouble or complication like his other children. Once again, the land acts as a force of life, bringing Wang Lung back to himself.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
One day, a small cloud appears in the south, slowly spreading upward but not moving like a normal cloud. The village men discuss it, worried that it’s made of locusts. Eventually the wind blows a dead locust to the ground. Wang Lung forgets about his family troubles and urges the villagers to fight the locusts. Some say that their fate is to starve, and it will happen no matter what. They go to worship in the temples.
The villagers seem to believe the locusts are a sign of the divine, just as they are in the Bible. But as a rich man, Wang Lung feels that he no longer has to bow to divine will, so he fights it instead.
Themes
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Wang Lung summons his workers and some of the other villagers, and they burn some of the crops and dig moats to hinder the locusts. They don’t even stop to sleep. Eventually the locusts arrive, leaving some fields untouched and eating others. Wang Lung and his men kill as many as they can. Wang Lung’s best fields are left intact and he still has a harvest. Many people eat the dead insects, but Wang Lung refuses to. The locusts distract him for a week, and then he feels that he can live with his uncle until the man dies. He harvests his wheat and plants rice.
If the locusts really are sent by the gods, Wang Lung seems to triumph over them, or to be favored by them. The rich were sometimes thought to be divinely chosen, like royalty, and the survival of Wang Lung’s fields suggests that the gods approve of his increasing wealth. Again, his work in the fields acts as a remedy to his mental disturbances, and he becomes reconciled to the idea of his uncle’s blackmail.
Themes
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon