When Wang Lung discovers the handful of jewels that O-lan has stolen from the great house in the city, she asks to keep two pearls, and he lets her. However, he later takes them from her and has them made into earrings for Lotus. Though O-lan has few aspirations to greatness, the fact that she treasures the pearls so much shows that she has plenty of thoughts and feelings that Wang Lung doesn’t perceive. He thinks of her as a very simple, hard-working woman, and he never considers that she might want a better life than she has. Furthermore, her desire for the pearls shows that she appreciates beauty, even though Wang Lung thinks she’s ugly and sometimes wishes she would try to make herself more beautiful. Later, the pearls act as an agent of Wang Lung’s casual cruelty, as he takes this treasured possession from his wife and gives them to Lotus, who represents his desertion of his wife.
The Pearls Quotes in The Good Earth
“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.