The Good Earth


Chapters 20–22

Summary Chapters 20–22

Analysis : Chapters 20–22

Wang Lung’s sudden disregard for O-lan’s valuable contributions to his wealth can be understood to some extent in relation to patriarchal Chinese society. As a woman, O-lan is not considered an equal partner in their marriage but a valuable piece of property whose worth is measured by Wang Lung’s satisfaction with her. Probably because she too considers it a natural state of affairs for Wang Lung to desire a second woman, O-lan, despite her obvious pain at being supplanted by Lotus, continues to behave as the model Chinese wife.

However, O-lan begins to stand up for herself more and more. She points out that she has given her husband three healthy sons. Her implication, which he understands, is that she has been a model wife, that she has done the most important thing a wife can do in giving him sons, and that he has no legal complaint against her. When angered, O-lan reminds Wang Lung of his cruelty in taking her pearls from her.

But until the floods subside, Wang Lung shows little regard for O-lan’s, or anyone else’s, opinion. Throughout the previous chapters, Wang Lung demonstrated an intense sensitivity to the opinions of others, but now that he is idle and wealthy, his focus turns inward. He is no longer happy with the mere ownership of money; now he wishes to behave and look like a rich man. O-lan compares him to the dissolute and extravagant Old Master Hwang. She means it as an insult, but Wang Lung takes it as a compliment. He is also pleased when O-lan tells him that their son is just like a spoiled young lord.

Even at his worst, however, Wang Lung does not stray entirely from the moral values that defined his upbringing. As the reigning male in his household and a rich man, he is within his rights to take a concubine. Indeed, some or most people would consider taking a concubine the natural and proper course for a man in his position. However, Wang Lung, who grew up distrusting the values of the wealthy, is uneasy with his actions. For this reason, he is embarrassed when his father finds out about Lotus. Moreover, when his son reaches sexual maturity and begins to struggle with sexual longing, Wang Lung cannot bring himself to buy a female slave for him, a common and accepted practice for rich families. Instead, he resolves to find a wife for his son.

Wang Lung’s return to working the land after the floods subside brings about his moral and emotional renewal, as he begins to lose interest in Lotus and return to the simpler ethic of hard work that Buck connects to happiness and success throughout the book.