As the pregnancy progresses, Wang Lung suggests one night after dinner that they should find a woman to help with the birth, but O-lan shakes her head. Wang Lung has gotten used to O-lan’s silence. He insists that there must be another slave from the House of Hwang who could come help. He has never mentioned O-lan’s past life before, and she suddenly becomes angry, saying that she won’t have anyone from that house. Wang Lung persists in his line of argument.
O-lan demonstrates extreme self-sufficiency and resourcefulness in her ability to give birth on her own. Giving birth has traditionally been one of the situations in which women support each other, and in this book with almost no positive female companionship, O-lan refuses even this most necessary form of it. Her hatred for her past life first becomes evident here.
O-lan says that when she goes back to the House of Hwang, she will bring her son. Both will be clad in new clothes, and she’ll present herself to the Old Mistress. Wang Lung realizes that O-lan has been planning this for a long time, even though it seemed like she wasn’t even thinking about the child. He gives her as much money as she needs for the clothes, plus a little more that he’d been considering using to gamble. He’s always too afraid of losing money to gamble. O-lan takes the money, saying it’s the first silver she’s ever had. Wang Lung thinks of how the silver came from the earth he works. For the first time, he sees spending money not as a waste, but as creating something wonderful—clothes for his child.
O-lan wants nothing more than to overcome the cruelty she experienced at the House of Hwang and to prove that she’s no longer a slave. Thus, she hopes to symbolically throw off the Hwangs’ power over her before Wang Lung even thinks to work towards the same end. O-lan and Wang Lung both treasure money for having very little of it, while it will be seen that the Hwangs waste theirs since they have so much. Wang Lung recognizes that his life proceeds from the earth, this time in the form of money that will set his child apart and mark his upward mobility.
O-lan doesn’t want anyone with her when she gives birth. Her time comes one evening when she’s working in the field with Wang Lung, harvesting the rice. Wang Lung has been getting impatient with her slow work, but when he turns to look at her, he notices that she’s in pain. She returns to the house, telling him not to come into the room where she lies. He is only to bring her a sharpened reed to cut the umbilical cord. When he returns home with the reed, he’s amazed to find that O-lan has prepared dinner. She comes panting to the door of her room to fetch the reed from him.
O-lan exhibits incredible strength and stamina, doing physical work up until when she goes into labor and even fulfilling her housewife’s duty to feed her family while in labor. No one can reproach her for laziness or shirking her responsibilities as a wife. Her request to be alone while giving birth makes the process into something mysterious and frightening.
Wang Lung’s father tells him not to worry yet and recalls his many children who died. Wang Lung stands at the door of the room, listening to O-lan pant and smelling a frightening smell of blood. Finally, he hears a baby cry and asks whether it’s a “man.” O-lan confirms that it is. Wang Lung jubilantly awakens his father to tell him the news, who laughs with happiness at being a grandfather. Finally, Wang Lung eats his dinner, listening to the sounds from the bedroom.
Wang Lung’s father’s memories of his dead children demonstrate the dangers of life in this time, particularly as a poor family. The fact that Wang Lung calls a newborn boy a “man” indicates that he already pins on it all his hopes for a son who will bring him pride and eventually take over care of the land. Even at birth, the boy has a whole host of social expectations on him.
Wang Lung goes back to the room, and O-lan allows him to enter. It smells like blood, but the only blood he can see is in a tub that O-lan has pushed under the bed to conceal it. She’s lying in bed with the baby beside her, wrapped in Wang Lung’s old trousers, as is the custom. Wang Lung looks at the baby, unable to speak because of his emotions. O-lan appears worn out from the birth, and Wang Lung feels very tenderly towards her. He says that the next day, he’ll buy red sugar and stir it into hot water for her to drink. In fact, he’ll even buy eggs and dye them red so that everyone will know he has a son.
O-lan hides all signs of the trial she has just endured, perhaps because to perfectly fulfill the role of wife, she must never complain or draw attention to herself. Wrapping the baby in Wang Lung’s trousers indicates that he is expected to grow up in his father’s image and someday take over Wang Lung’s responsibilities. Wang Lung fully feels the importance and miracle of this first birth as he won’t with the later births.