Buck’s portrayal of Chinese culture remains objective and understated in tone throughout these chapters. In traditional Chinese culture, the silence of women was highly valued, and O-lan, a conscientious woman, is almost always silent. But even though we learn almost nothing about O-lan’s character from her speech, we learn a great deal about her through her actions. She shows her pleasure with Wang Lung by bringing him hot tea in the morning. She shows her great pride in her home by taking care to make it look the best it can; she cleans and mends household items before joining Wang Lung in the fields. Her actions establish her as extraordinarily capable, hardworking, and resourceful. Buck hints at dark episodes in O-lan’s past, as evidenced by O-lan’s unexplained refusal to allow anyone from the House of Hwang attend her during her labor.
Buck’s characterization of O-lan demonstrates the importance that Chinese culture ascribed to women’s labor. O-lan’s labor is crucially important to Wang Lung, for with her help, he is able to produce a huge harvest and lay the foundations for future success. O-lan’s skill at laboring makes Wang Lung’s initial disappointment by her unbound feet seem foolish, since O-lan would not be able to work in the fields with the tiny, painful feet produced by foot-binding. Wang Lung initially desired a wife with bound feet to prove that he had enough money to support a wife whose feet prevented her from working. Of course, without a wife capable of laboring, he never would have gained the wealth this status symbol was supposed to represent. Buck shows that Wang Lung, despite his love of the land, has a dangerous weakness for the trappings of wealth.