Buck ascribes Wang Lung’s success to his continuing devotion to the land, and the Hwangs’ decline to their distance from it. When Wang Lung buys a parcel of land from the Hwangs, it both proves that he is growing richer and suggests that he wants to return his wealth to the land. Still, Wang Lung has begun to show subtle signs of change, and as his dream of material success comes true, he begins to lose some of his honest, simple frugality. We see this change in Chapter 5, when he behaves rudely to the gate man’s wife; it is perhaps most evident, however, in his gradually changing treatment of O-lan.
Buck presents an evenhanded picture of O-lan’s life. O-lan recognizes her good luck in marrying Wang Lung and shows her gratitude by being the perfect wife. She knows that her marriage brought her out of slavery and that Wang Lung is a kindhearted man who treats her well. Because she has become a wife and a mother of sons, her social status has improved, and she can depend on her sons to support her in her old age. Yet even in this fine situation, O-lan is constantly marginalized. Once the novelty of marriage wears off, Wang Lung begins to take O-lan for granted. In Chapter 6, for example, he is annoyed when she becomes pregnant, because it removes her from the fields. O-lan is an ideal wife, seldom complaining and always devoted, but Wang Lung does not appear to notice this.
O-lan does not outwardly complain about her former life as a slave. However, she seems pleased to hear of the Hwangs’ troubles, and she delights in presenting her son to the Old Mistress and proving that her social status has improved since she lived as a slave. However, Buck suggests that even in victory, O-lan must succumb to the dictates of a patriarchal world, for had O-lan given birth to a girl, she never could have taken pride in her daughter.