Wang Lung has often thought his uncle might cause trouble, and now he begins to do so. Because of their family ties, Wang Lung has to support him if the uncle needs help. The uncle works enough to feed his family, but no more. The uncle’s wife doesn’t keep their house clean, and their daughters run around the village and talk to men. This disgrace makes Wang Lung so angry that he tells his uncle’s wife that no one will marry a girl who’s so bold with men.
Wang Lung’s uncle’s family exists in opposition to Wang Lung’s own. While Wang Lung and O-lan constantly work to try to better their place in life, Wang Lung’s uncle and his wife are lazy and careless. But Wang Lung’s responsible personality—and rigid social rules—won’t let him watch his own relatives struggle if he has the power to help them.
The uncle’s wife tells Wang Lung that they can’t pay for their daughters to marry since they don’t have the sort of money he does. She says it isn’t her husband’s fault that he has bad luck no matter how hard he works. Tearing at her hair and weeping, she laments her family’s “evil destiny.” Her neighbors come to watch, but Wang Lung insists that the eldest daughter must be married while she’s still a virgin, and then he goes home. He dreams of becoming richer and doesn’t want his uncle’s family to ruin his rise in status.
The uncle’s wife insists that her family’s poverty isn’t her husband’s fault, even though Wang Lung knows it is. This makes the family even more unlikeable, since they won’t take responsibility for their own failings. Wang Lung shows his overpowering care for his social status here, as he doesn’t want his relative’s bad reputation to set him back as he becomes an important man.
The next day, Wang Lung’s uncle comes to the field where he’s working. O-lan isn’t working with him, because she’s pregnant again, and not as strong as before. Wang Lung’s uncle’s clothes fit him badly. He comes to stand silently where Wang Lang is hoeing. Finally, Wang Lung says sarcastically that he must be a slower worker than his uncle, if his uncle is already done cultivating his beans. His uncle replies that bad luck has made his beans fail to grow. Wang Lung knows his uncle has come to ask a favor.
O-lan’s constant work and childbearing seems to be wearing on her, though Wang Lung doesn’t give it a second thought. He knows his uncle doesn’t take good care of his crops, but his uncle refuses to take responsibility for his crops’ poor quality or to ever look critically at his own life choices. His ill-fitting clothes symbolize his generally careless state.
Wang Lung’s uncle agrees that his daughter should be married, and he’s worried that she’ll get pregnant and shame their family. Wang Lung wants to tell him to force her act respectably, but he can’t say this to someone older than him. His uncle laments that his wife is lazy and only births girls. If he were as rich as Wang Lung, he says, he would share his wealth with his nephew.
Wang Lung knows that he’s wiser and more responsible than his uncle, but he’s too polite to transgress traditions of respect for family and for elders. His uncle blames his misfortune not only on luck, but also on his wife, refusing to take any blame himself. He tries to guilt-trip Wang Lung.
Wang Lung replies that he isn’t rich, and has many mouths to feed. His uncle says that his purchase of land from the Hwangs shows his wealth. Wang Lung gets angry, telling his uncle that he and O-lan work hard, unlike his uncle and his uncle’s wife. His uncle slaps him for speaking disrespectfully to an elder. Wang Lung knows he has done wrong, but remains angry. His uncle threatens to tell the whole village of Wang Lung’s disrespect.
Wang Lung initially kept his land purchase a secret so that others wouldn’t try to take advantage of him, and now his uncle is doing just that. Although Wang Lung’s arguments are accurate, his transgression of social rules puts him in the wrong, which could hurt him in his quest to rise socially.
Finally, Wang Lung asks what his uncle wants of him. His uncle calms down and asks for money to marry off his oldest daughter. Wang Lung takes him to the house for the silver, resentful because he knows his savings are going to be wasted on his uncle’s gambling. At the house, his uncle gives Wang Lung’s children coins and admires them while Wang Lung goes to his room for the money.
Wang Lung’s uncle essentially blackmails him into giving him money, foreshadowing later similar acts. The uncle acts kindly to the children despite his despicable demands, which proves his untrustworthiness—he can appear innocent while really hurting his own relatives.
In the room, Wang Lung finds that O-lan has birthed a girl, which she calls a “slave.” Wang Lung feels that the birth signifies bad luck. When he takes the silver out of the wall, O-lan asks what he’s doing, and he says he must lend it to his uncle. O-lan points out that it won’t be a loan, but a gift. Wang Lung is aware of this. He gives his uncle the money and goes back to the field, where he falls to work with a passion, thinking of his money wasted.
The fact that girls are called “slaves” from birth indicates their complete disempowerment in every phase of life. Girls are valued far less than boys, and Wang Lung even sees the birth of a girl as an evil omen. Against this backdrop, O-lan demonstrates her financial awareness and practicality.
By evening, Wang Lung’s anger wanes and he remembers that he now has another mouth to feed. He anticipates more daughters to come, who are raised for the good of other families. He hasn’t even looked at his daughter’s face yet. Leaning on his hoe, he grieves that now he won’t be able to buy more land until the next year. He sees a flock of crows land in the trees near his house, and he chases them away. It’s a bad omen.
Daughters are valued little partly because they will marry into other families, rather than bringing wealth or glory to their own family. Wang Lung initially seems to dislike this daughter, though she will become his most treasured child. Just as Wang Lung senses, this day acts as a turning point in his fortunes.