The protagonist of The Good Earth, Wang Lung begins the novel as a poor, simple young farmer forced to marry a slave, and ends it as a wealthy patriarch with enough money and influence to own concubines. Though he gains a fortune, Wang partially loses his connection to the earth, his simple piety, and his ability to participate in the old traditions that have given his life meaning. His success is, therefore, a mixed blessing.

Throughout the novel, Wang’s character is essentially defined by two contrasting and even contradictory traits. The first trait is his love of the land, which enables his piety, his good sense, his frugality, his work ethic, and his love of family. The second trait is his desire for wealth and status. Though Wang’s love of the land keeps his heart pure for much of the novel, his acquisitiveness and desire for status eventually sullies his character and darkens his actions. Though in the end Wang’s moral sense causes him to repent his separation from the land, he never quite loses his tendency to desire wealth and status, and he passes on this tendency to his sons. Consequently, in his old age, he is doomed to watch them repeat the mistakes of the Hwangs and sever their connection from the land that created their fortune.