Hunger makes thief of any man.
This quotation from Chapter 15 is spoken by one of the villagers who knows of the looting of Wang Lung’s house. It comes as Wang Lung is fresh from his participation in the looting of the rich man’s house in Chapter 14. Eventually, he forgives Ching for his part in looting Wang Lung’s house during the famine. Wang Lung has learned from his own experience that the desperate conditions of poverty and starvation can force even the most upright individual to compromise his moral belief in the interest of sheer survival, and as a result he no longer holds a grudge against Ching. Instead, he chooses to remember Ching’s kindness to Wang Lung’s family. It is here that the enduring friendship between Wang and Ching begins.
The forgiving sentiment of the quotation, which shows a willingness to think of morality in relative terms, characterizes Buck’s attitude toward her characters throughout the book. When Wang understands the conditions that led to Ching’s behavior, he is able to understand and empathize with Ching. This attempt to understand is the same attitude Buck takes toward such practices as slavery, infanticide, and foot-binding, and it is the approach that The Good Earth asks its readers to take as well.