The Good Earth

The Good Earth

The Good Earth Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The day after the birth, O-lan makes food as usual but doesn’t go to work in the fields. That afternoon, Wang Lung goes to town to buy fifty eggs and red paper to dye them red. He also buys red sugar, telling the merchant proudly of his son. The man wishes him good fortune as he does to many customers, but it makes Wang Lung feel particularly lucky. However, he soon becomes worried that if he’s too fortunate, evil spirits will come to ruin his happiness. He buys incense and burns it in the temple where he and O-lan went before. Wang Lung feels sure that the gods in the temple will protect his family.
Red is the color of joy and good fortune in Chinese culture. Wang Lung feels very lucky and proud to have a son, but his fear of evil spirits in the face of his happiness gestures to the inevitable rise and fall of fortunes throughout life. Everyone experiences good luck and bad luck, and if Wang Lung has just had excellent luck, it seems likely that there’s bad luck to come. However, imagining bad luck as evil spirits means that he can act preemptively to fight it off.
Themes
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Before long, O-lan begins working in the fields with Wang Lung again. They thresh and winnow the harvested wheat, and then plant another crop for winter. While O-lan works, the baby lies on a quilt on the ground. Sometimes O-lan stops to nurse him, both of them looking brown from the dirt as though they were made out of earth. O-lan produces more milk than the baby can drink, and it gushes into the ground. The baby is healthy, taking life from his mother’s milk.
Buck again stresses the family’s connection to the land. O-lan and the baby seem to be made out of the earth, and in fact all the nourishment they’ve ever received has originally come from it. In return, O-lan gives her milk to the earth, almost as a sort of offering. The image is one of great fertility; O-lan’s fertility produces milk that nurtures not only her son, but also the fertile land.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
When winter comes, the family is well prepared. The harvests have been bountiful, and the house is full of onions, garlic, wheat, and rice. Because Wang Lung is careful with his money, he can afford to wait until food is scarce to sell his grain, so that he’ll get a better price for it. His uncle, on the other hand, always has to sell his grain far too early. Wang Lung’s uncle’s wife is lazy and always wants luxuries, unlike O-lan. Wang Lung even has a leg of pork that he bought from his neighbor Ching when his pig began to sicken and had to be killed.
Wang Lung’s luck has stayed excellent, and the land has been just as fertile as O-lan. However, even in the midst of Wang Lung’s hard-won prosperity, the reader learns of his uncle’s family’s woes, foreshadowing the uncle’s family’s later attempts to drain Wang Lung of his fortune. Wang Lung’s financial wisdom is contrasted with his uncle’s blunders.
Themes
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Family Theme Icon
The family sits with their wealth while the winter becomes bitterly cold. When the baby turns one month old, Wang Lung invites guests over and gives them the eggs that he’s dyed red. Everyone admires his healthy son. Meanwhile, the wind tears leaves from all the trees except the bamboos and prevents the wheat seed from sprouting. Finally, the wind stops and it rains, and the baby tries to catch the water as it drips off the roof. Wang Lung’s father boasts of his grandson’s intelligence. The wheat sprouts.
This is one of the few truly content times for Wang Lung’s family. They can share their good fortune with their relatives and neighbors, and though nature temporarily creates a setback for the crops, it passes quickly enough. The baby’s growth parallels that of the wheat; as he becomes aware of the world around him, the wheat begins to grow, too.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
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The farmers feel that the earth is doing their work for them by watering the crops, so they have time to visit each other and socialize while their wives work at home. Wang Lung, however, worries that others will want to borrow from his plentiful stores of food if he becomes too friendly with them, so he avoids visiting. He stays home and mends tools while O-lan mends clothes and earthenware. They feel happy at each other’s work and approval, though they say little. Wang Lung has a bit of extra money from the harvest, so together they hide it in a hole in the wall behind their bed. It gives them a sense of wealth and comfort.
Wang Lung may be well-off at the moment, but he doesn’t feel secure in his wealth. Though he always cares what others think of him, right now he’s more worried about being able to take care of his family than about showing off. In this phase of modest wealth, Wang Lung and O-lan can mutually appreciate each other and exist in perfect harmony. Hiding the money together is an act of unity and trust that makes them seem almost equal.
Themes
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
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