The House of Hwang represents the wealth and respect to which Wang Lung aspires, but also the danger of excess and degeneracy that goes along with it. Wang Lung is first entirely intimidated by the house and doesn’t know how to act within its bounds, as it represents a world far beyond that which he’s used to. Over the course of the book, the state of the house and those who live within it deteriorates while Wang Lung’s fortunes rise, though he never ceases to see the house as a marker of wealth due to its earlier greatness. When Wang Lung’s eldest son suggests that he rent the inner courts of the house, Wang Lung does so for the feeling of power that it gives him as he symbolically replaces the Hwang family whom he always regarded as far superior to him. Taking over the house marks the pinnacle of Wang Lung’s rise.
However, the house also embodies the cyclical nature of the story. The Hwangs had to leave their house because they frittered away all their money on luxuries and then were robbed by a band that included their own starving servants. When Wang Lung moves into the house, he and his family also fall into luxurious habits, and the uncle’s wife’s addiction to opium even mirrors the Old Mistress’s. The common people grumble of revolting against the rich when the eldest son drives them out of the outer courts. Finally, at the end of the book Wang Lung’s sons plan to sell his land, just as the Hwang family sold theirs before their downfall. Thus, Wang Lung’s move into the House of Hwang seems to set him in the footsteps of the Hwang family, not only in their prosperity, but also in their decline.
The House of Hwang Quotes in The Good Earth
“Raise him,” said the old lady gravely to the gateman, “these obeisances are not necessary. Has he come for the woman?”
“Yes, Ancient One,” replied the gateman.
“Why does he not speak for himself?” asked the old lady.
“Because he is a fool, Ancient One,” said the gateman...
This roused Wang Lung and he looked with indignation at the gateman.
“I am only a coarse person, Great and Ancient Lady,” he said. “I do not know what words to use in such a presence.”
I had but a moment for private talk with the cook under whom I worked before... but she said, ‘This house cannot stand forever with all the young lords, five of them, spending money like waste water in foreign parts and sending home woman after woman as they weary of them, and the Old Lord living at home adding a concubine or two each year, and the Old Mistress eating enough opium every day to fill two shoes with gold.’
“If I could have two,” she went on humbly, “only two small ones—two small white pearls even...”
“Pearls!” he repeated, agape... Then Wang Lung... looked for an instant into the heart of this dull and faithful creature, who had labored all her life at some task at which she won no reward and who in the great house had seen others wearing jewels which she never even felt in her hand once.
But all this was not a sudden thing. All during the lifetime of the Old Lord and of his father the fall of this house has been coming. In the last generation the lords ceased to see the land and took the moneys the agents gave them and spent it carelessly as water. And in these generations the strength of the land has gone from them and bit by bit the land has begun to go also.
Now Wang Lung in the old days when the great family were there would have felt himself one of these common people and against the great and half hating, half fearful of them. But now that he had land and that he had silver and gold hidden safely away, he despised these people who swarmed everywhere, and he said to himself that they were filthy and he picked his way among them with his nose up and breathing lightly because of the stink they made. And he despised them and was against them as though he himself belonged to the great house.
There before him was the great carven dais where the old lady had sat, her fragile, tended body wrapped in silvery satin.
And moved by some strange impulse he went forward and he sat down where she had sat and he put his hand on the table and from the eminence it gave him he looked down on the bleary face of the old hag who blinked at him... Then some satisfaction he had longed for all his days without knowing it swelled up in his heart and he smote the table with his hand and he said suddenly,
“This house I will have!”
...[T]hese common people found that the rent for the rooms and the courts where they lived had been greatly raised... and they had to move away. Then they knew it was Wang Lung’s eldest son who had done this...
The common people had to move, then, and they moved complaining and cursing because a rich man could do as he would and they... went away swelling with anger and muttering that one day they would come back even as the poor do come back when the rich are too rich.