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The Good Earth

Pearl S. Buck

Character List

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

Wang Lung -  The protagonist of The Good Earth. He begins life as a poor farmer and marries O-lan, a slave owned by the Hwang family. Wang Lung maintains a fierce attachment to the land. However, he is also extremely ambitious and envies the material success of the wealthy Hwangs. He is increasingly drawn to the Hwangs’ decadent lifestyle, and in the end, his piety and love of the land is only partially successful in helping him maintain his good character and moral standing.

Read an in-depth analysis of Wang Lung.

O-lan -  A woman sold to the wealthy Hwang family as a slave when she was ten years old. After she marries Wang Lung, she achieves a respectable position as the mother of three sons. She is a strong, hardworking, resourceful woman and a devoted wife. Still, she is continually marginalized by Wang Lung, and she is eventually replaced in his affections.

Read an in-depth analysis of O-lan.

Wang Lung’s father -  A traditional and morally severe man.
Wang Lung’s uncle -  A cunning scoundrel and thief. Wang Lung’s uncle is the younger brother of Wang Lung’s father. Because the uncle is a member of the older generation, Wang Lung must show him respect and give him support in difficult times, despite his despicable nature. The uncle constantly exploits Wang Lung’s adherence to traditional Chinese codes of conduct.
The wife of Wang Lung’s uncle -  A village gossip. Like her husband and son, she is lazy and manipulative.
The son of Wang Lung’s uncle -  A wasteful, disrespectful scoundrel, and a sexual predator.
Lotus -  A beautiful, delicate prostitute with bound feet. Lotus becomes Wang Lung’s concubine. She has a terrible temper.
Wang Lung’s first son -  Extravagant, arrogant, and obsessed with appearances, Wang Lung’s first son grows up spoiled and rejects the values that made his father rich.
Wang Lung’s second son -  Crafty, enterprising, and miserly, Wang Lung’s second son is more responsible than the first son, but he also rejects his father’s traditional values as outmoded.
The wife of Wang Lung’s first son -  The daughter of a local grain merchant, Liu. She grew up in a wealthy family, so she urges her husband to spend money on luxury items; she is spoiled and reckless. Like many women from wealthy families, she has bound feet.
The wife of Wang Lung’s second son -  The daughter of a modest landowning village family. She becomes enemies with the wife of Wang Lung’s first son.
Wang Lung’s third son  -  The twin of Wang Lung’s second daughter. He dreams of glory and becomes a soldier against his father’s wishes.
Wang Lung’s first daughter -  Suffers from severe malnutrition as an infant during a famine year. She is retarded and never learns to speak. Wang Lung develops a strong attachment to her and worries about what will become of her after his death.
Wang Lung’s second daughter -  The twin of Wang Lung’s third son. After Wang Lung begins to criticize O-lan’s appearance cruelly, especially her big feet, O-lan decides to bind the little girl’s feet. Wang Lung promises her in marriage to Liu’s son.
Cuckoo -  A slave who worked in the House of Hwang at the same time as O-lan. Cuckoo was beautiful in her youth, so the Old Master took her as his concubine while O-lan worked as a kitchen slave. Arrogant and bad-tempered, she insulted and berated O-lan constantly.
Ching -  Wang Lung’s neighbor in the village and, later, Wang Lung’s capable, faithful, valued servant.
Pear Blossom -  A slave purchased by Wang Lung during the famine years, when she was seven years old. She serves as Lotus’s personal servant for years.
Liu -  A grain merchant in town and a relative of Wang Lung’s by marriage.
Old Mistress Hwang -  The opium-addicted matriarch of the great Hwang family.
Old Master Hwang -  The patriarch of the great Hwang family when Wang Lung is a poor farmer. He spends money extravagantly and drains his coffers by taking a succession of concubines.

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