The story is narrated in a coolly detached third-person voice that often describes Wang Lung’s thoughts and feelings and generally describes only the actions, and not the thoughts, of the other characters.

Point of View  

The novel is written almost exclusively from Wang Lung’s point of view.


The narrator’s tone is solemn and detached. The story is told with a great deal of gravity, but the language is kept very simple and remains placid even when describing events of great trauma and upheaval. The story’s tone has reminded some readers of the Bible; it is based in part on the tone of much of the Chinese literature Buck knew well.



Settings (Time)  

Roughly 1890s–1930s

Settings (Place)  

Anhwei, China; Wang Lung’s nearby farm; the far-off southern city of Nanking


Wang Lung

Major conflict  

Wang Lung’s desire for wealth and status clashes with his simple respect for the earth and his adherence to old Chinese traditions of religious and filial piety. Later, Wang comes into conflict with his uncle’s family and with his children, as they exploit his wealth and disregard his wishes.

Rising action  

The various natural disasters of the book—famine, drought, and flood; Wang Lung’s marriage to O-lan and the birth of his children; his struggle through poverty in Kiangsu


The financial success of Wang Lung

Falling action  

Wang Lung’s increasing interest in women and sensual pleasures; his old age; the children’s decision to sell his land


Man’s relationship to the earth; wealth as a destroyer of traditional values; the place of women in Chinese culture


The cycle of nature; religion


Foot-binding; the House of Hwang; O-lan’s pearls


The downfall of the Hwangs foreshadows the downfall of Wang Lung’s family; the raid on Wang Lung’s house and the discovery that his sons have been stealing foreshadow Wang Lung’s own theft of the gold from the rich man’s house; Wang Lung’s disappointment in seeing O-lan’s unbound feet foreshadows his affair with Lotus, whose feet are bound.