Then slowly she thrust her wet wrinkled hand into her bosom and she drew forth the small package and she gave it to him and watched him as he unwrapped it; and the pearls lay in his hand and they caught softly and fully the light of the sun, and he laughed. But O-lan returned to the beating of his clothes and when tears dropped slowly and heavily from her eyes she did not put up her hand to wipe them away; only she beat the more steadily with her wooden stick upon the clothes spread over the stone.
This heartrending passage from Chapter 19 comes as Wang Lung demands that O-lan give him the pearls that she had stolen from the rich man’s house, which he allowed her to save. The pearls were an important symbol of Wang Lung’s respect and consideration for his wife; now, however, he is in love with the young prostitute Lotus, and he wants to give the pearls to her as a gift. Completely disregarding O-lan’s feelings, Wang is oblivious to the agony he causes her with this demand. Wang laughs at the beauty of the pearls while the reticent O-lan, too conscientious to complain about this bad treatment, weeps softly to herself. That O-lan continues to do her domestic chores as she weeps emphasizes the unending work she does without complaint, only to be repaid with Wang Lung’s indifference and condescension.