The Good Earth

The Good Earth

The Land Symbol Icon

This novel centers around the land more than anything, as indicated by the title. Wang Lung feels deeply connected to the earth, and it symbolizes life in all its forms as Wang Lung’s life literally depends on it. He builds his house out of earth, grows his food in it, and even eats the dirt itself when his family is starving. He feels that the earth is part of him and he a part of it, and when his family members die, he’s comforted by the fact that they can lie in the earth. Even when he’s at his most desperate, Wang Lung feels that he can go on as long as he knows he has his land waiting for him, a promise of better times to come.

Not only does Wang Lung depend on the land for food and income, but he also needs it for his own mental well-being. While he’s in the city to the south, he realizes he can’t be happy when he’s away from his land. Later, when he becomes too wrapped up in the luxuries and attendant problems that go along with wealth—such as falling in love with Lotus—only the land and his hard work there can heal him. The land acts as an antithesis, or an opposing force, to the detrimental effects of wealth. Only poorer people work on the land, and it’s seen as improper for Wang Lung’s family to do so once they’ve become wealthy. Thus, whenever Wang Lung returns to his fields and feels his old connection to them, he shows that he can never become so entirely decadent as the Old Lord. However, his sons’ decision to sell the land at the end of the book indicates that they are in danger of this degenerate life, since they never worked the land and felt its necessity to life.

The Land Quotes in The Good Earth

The The Good Earth quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Land. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Washington Square Press edition of The Good Earth published in 2004.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. The earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes.... Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together—together—producing the fruit of this earth—speechless in their movement together.

Related Characters: Wang Lung, O-lan
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 29-30
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

Wang Lung sat smoking, thinking of the silver as it had lain upon the table. It had come out of the earth, this silver, out of his earth that he ploughed and turned and spent himself upon. He took his life from this earth; drop by drop by his sweat he wrung food from it and from the food, silver. Each time before this that he had taken the silver out to give to anyone, it had been like taking a piece of his life and giving it to someone carelessly. But now... he saw the silver transmuted into something worth even more than itself—clothes upon the body of his son. And this strange woman of his, who worked about, saying nothing, seeming to see nothing, she had first seen the child thus clothed!

Related Characters: Wang Lung, O-lan, The Old Mistress
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

There was more than enough [milk] for the child, greedy though he was, life enough for many children, and she let it flow out carelessly, conscious of her abundance. There was always more and more. Sometimes she lifted her breast and let it flow out upon the ground to save her clothing, and it sank into the earth and made a soft, dark, rich spot in the field. The child was fat and good-natured and ate of the inexhaustible life his mother gave him.

Related Characters: O-lan, The eldest son (Nung En)
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

They cannot take the land from me. The labor of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I had bought with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), Wang Lung’s uncle
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

“The dead man is yourselves,” proclaimed the young teacher, “and the murderous one who stabs you when you are dead and do not know it are the rich and the capitalists, who would stab you even after you are dead. You are poor and downtrodden and it is because the rich seize everything.”

...[Wang Lung] listened in interest to hear further what the rich men had to do with this thing, that heaven would not rain in its season. And at last... Wang Lung grew bold and asked,

“Sir, is there any way whereby the rich who oppress us can make it rain so that I can work on the land?”

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 16 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Cuckoo (speaker), Wang Lung, The Old Lord
Related Symbols: The House of Hwang, The Land
Page Number: 151-52
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 20 Quotes

And Wang Lung... felt his mouth suddenly dry and parched and his voice came from him in a whisper,

“Silver, then! Silver and gold! Anything to the very price of my land!”

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), Wang Lung’s uncle, Lotus, Cuckoo
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 22 Quotes

As he had been healed of his sickness of heart when he came from the southern city and comforted by the bitterness he had endured there, so now again Wang Lung was healed of his sickness of love by the good dark earth of his fields and he felt the moist soil on his feet and he smelled the earthy fragrance rising up out of the furrows he turned for the wheat.

Related Characters: Wang Lung, Lotus
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 33 Quotes

...[H]e had been of half a mind to walk out on his land and feel the good earth under his feet and take off his shoes and stockings and feel it on his skin.

This he would have done but he was ashamed lest men see him, who was no longer held a farmer within the gates of the town, but a landowner and a rich man.

Related Characters: Wang Lung
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 34 Quotes

“Now, evil, idle sons—sell the land!” He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him and held him up, and he began to weep.... “It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land,” he said brokenly. “Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land—”

...And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered,

“If you sell the land, it is the end.”

...And they soothed him and they said over and over, the elder son and the second son,

“Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold.”

But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.

Related Characters: Wang Lung (speaker), The eldest son (Nung En), The second son (Nung Wen)
Related Symbols: The Land
Page Number: 357
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Land Symbol Timeline in The Good Earth

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Land appears in The Good Earth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...it becomes hot, the two fall into a peaceful union with each other and the earth. People have lived here and been buried here for ages, and they are part of... (full context)
Chapter 3
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 4
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
The farmers feel that the earth is doing their work for them by watering the crops, so they have time to... (full context)
Chapter 5
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
The Old Mistress told O-lan that the family is looking to sell land just outside the city wall. This entirely convinces Wang Lung of the family’s fallen fortunes,... (full context)
Chapter 6
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
The new piece of land changes Wang Lung’s life. When he first buys it, he almost regrets his purchase, wishing... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
One day Wang Lung goes to look at his new land. He paces out how large it is and decides that he’ll replace the stones at... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung has good harvests again and hides more money in the wall. The land he’s bought gives him even better harvests than his old land. Everyone comes to know... (full context)
Chapter 7
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...Lung replies that if the plants die, they’ll all starve. Their lives depend on the land. (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
The land Wang Lung bought from the House of Hwang is the only field that bears crops,... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...Lung’s silver. They make the deal quickly. Wang Lung feels satisfied to have this fertile land, particularly since it belonged to a great house. He doesn’t even tell O-lan that he... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...then he’s calmed by the thought that no matter what, no one can take his land away. The men would have stolen silver, but he still has his land. (full context)
Chapter 9
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...shakes his fists at the sky. One day he goes to the temple of the earth and spits on the figure of the god. The temple is unkempt now, but the... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...food from the men who are with him with a promise to help them buy land. The men have come to buy Wang Lung’s land. (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...hates them for eating when his own children are starving. He refuses to sell his land. His second son crawls to the door, too weak to walk. Wang Lung’s uncle asks... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...save his family, and he becomes terribly angry. He screams that he’ll never sell the land. Instead he’ll feed the earth to the children and bury them in it. Then his... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
O-lan comes to the door. She says calmly that they won’t sell the land, because they’ll need it when they get home from the south, but they’ll sell everything... (full context)
Chapter 11
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...paid for the ricksha. He’s disappointed, but he feels better when he thinks about his land waiting for him at home. He returns to the hut, and O-lan and the boys... (full context)
Chapter 12
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...son for stealing. This incident strengthens his conviction that they need to return to their land. (full context)
Chapter 13
Family Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...within which Wang Lung’s daughter is staggering around. Wang Lung watches and longs for his land. His father says he understands, having had to leave the fields four times in his... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...tells O-lan that if he had anything to sell, they would go back to the land. He wishes they could walk back, but knows they wouldn’t survive. O-lan says that he... (full context)
Chapter 14
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Wang Lung feels separate from the other men because he owns land and plans to return to it, while the others think only of day-to-day satisfaction. Wang... (full context)
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung can think only of his land, and so he hardly pays attention to the goings-on of the city. Twice, men give... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...the wealthy house. They feel discontented and unfairly treated. Wang Lung still only wants his land back. (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...prospering. Suddenly he can no longer stand their life here, and he weeps for the land. O-lan tells him to be patient, for everyone is talking of something. (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...Wang Lung finally realizes that this man’s money can let him get back to the land without selling his daughter. In an uncharacteristically cruel voice, Wang Lung tells the fat man... (full context)
Chapter 15
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...and mats to cover the roof, and in the evening he looks out over his land, ready for planting. For a while he doesn’t want to interact with other people, and... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
...have any seed to plant. Wang Lung gives him seed and offers to plow his land for him. Ching weeps, but Wang Lung reminds him of the beans Ching gave him... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...happiness, and he thinks he’d better give the gods some incense, since they control the land. (full context)
Chapter 16
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Wang Lung says that they must trade the jewels for land, which can’t be stolen. As he’s putting them into his coat, he notices that O-lan... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
Wang Lung decides to use the other jewels to buy more land from the House of Hwang. When he goes to the house, he pounds on the... (full context)
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...that the Old Lord will do whatever she says. Finally Wang Lung asks how much land is left, and Cuckoo says there’s quite a bit, and it can all be sold.... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...this great family has fallen apart, and he concludes that it’s because they abandoned their land. He decides to immediately start his sons working in the fields. In the meantime, he... (full context)
The Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
...but when the young lords return, she’ll be thrown out. Wang Lung asks whether the land is for sale. The shopkeeper isn’t interested in the subject, but says he’s heard it... (full context)
Chapter 17
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
After the purchase, Wang Lung has more land and harvest than he can handle, so he adds a room to his house, buys... (full context)
Rich vs. Poor Theme Icon
Connection to the Earth Theme Icon
Social Status Theme Icon
...that he’ll be able to weather these hard years and not have to leave his land again. He has good harvests for seven years, eventually paying six laborers who live in... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
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...with their father’s profession, as “Nung” means a person who makes their living from the land. (full context)
Chapter 18
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After seven years of good harvests, the river floods almost half of Wang Lung’s land. Many houses in the region are destroyed, but Wang Lung’s house is on a hill.... (full context)
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Wang Lung gets grumpier as he remembers that he owes his land to O-lan’s theft of the jewels. He tells himself that she only took them because... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...then tells them that he only wants Lotus. One girl says Wang Lung smells like land and garlic, and he’s humiliated. Finally Cuckoo leads him into a room where a girl... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...since Cuckoo will do anything for money. Wang Lung says he would give even his land for Lotus. (full context)
Chapter 21
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...out over his fields, which are no longer flooded, and he feels drawn to the land. He tears off his fancy clothes and calls for his farm tools, and he goes... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Wang Lung’s land heals the damage his love has done to him. He directs his men and plows... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...any of his children. Wang Lung works in the fields for many days, and the land heals him. (full context)
Chapter 24
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...then goes into the fields. After a while he shouts that he’s going to his land by the moat and will be gone a long time. However, he stops at the... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...not worth the price of the expensive medicine, which alone could buy a piece of land. Wang Lung insists he can pay it. The doctor wants the money, but he knows... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Wang Lung pays no attention to the land while O-lan is dying. Ching takes care of everything, coming twice a day to ask... (full context)
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...puts it in the coffin himself. He decides to make a burial plot on his land and bury O-lan and his father there. Wang Lung, too, will be buried there in... (full context)
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...of room for future family burials. It shows that the family is established on this land, and will stay here in life and death. Wang Lung dresses the whole family in... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...fight the gods like Wang Lung does, but accepts what comes. Wang Lung examines his land and sees it has become wet and the waterways have risen. He and Ching decide... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...and come to borrow money from Wang Lung to reestablish their farms. He also buys land from them. Others sell their daughters instead, and he buys five slaves to wait on... (full context)
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Wang Lung goes across his land with Ching, discussing the soil, and brings his youngest son to teach him about farming.... (full context)
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...uncle’s family in the country. Wang Lung refuses to consider the suggestion, saying that the land has given them all they have. He makes a point of behaving like a rough... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...prepares to move. When they’re ready to leave, Wang Lung finds he can’t leave his land, so he tells his sons that he’ll come to the great house a day before... (full context)
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Wang Lung decides that he should decrease the work necessary to run his lands by renting some of them out. Men from the villages become his tenants and give... (full context)
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Wang Lung stops going to his land so often, and he rents it all out but refuses to sell any of it.... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...heard this, but it pleases him. He says that even great families come from the land, but his son says they don’t stay there. Wang Lung insists he must stop spending... (full context)
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...son should be sent to school. Wang Lung had planned for him to farm the land and doesn’t see the need for his education. The eldest son says his brother doesn’t... (full context)
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...and Wang Lung is bitter that this means none of his sons would work his land. The boy is silent, but when Wang Lung becomes angry, he confirms that he doesn’t... (full context)
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Wang Lung appoints his second son as steward over the land, which pleases him, as it will give him control over the money. The second son... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...Pear Blossom. One day he feels particularly lustful, and he considers walking out to his land, but is ashamed to let other people see him there. Instead he wanders around the... (full context)
Chapter 34
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As Wang Lung grows old, he keeps his love of the land, and he goes out to it every spring. Sometimes he sleeps in his old house.... (full context)
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...asks Pear Blossom to help him, and she asks him where he was on his land, which makes him remember. Wang Lung tells his son where he wants to lie and... (full context)
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Wang Lung lives peacefully, thinking often about his land, but not worrying about planting or harvests. He thinks gladly of his coffin and his... (full context)
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One day Wang Lung follows his sons out onto the land. He comes up to them silently and hears them discussing how to sell the land... (full context)