Wang Lung’s misunderstanding of his eldest son is partly due to their vastly different upbringings. They are alike in some respects, especially in their ambition. However, having grown up with money, Wang Lung’s oldest son desires social prestige more than simple wealth. Whereas Wang Lung wanted his sons educated so that they would not be scorned by grain merchants, his son wants to go to a great university in the south so that he can see other places and learn from true scholars. Wang Lung and his son are both sensitive to the opinions of others; they are both obsessed with appearances. The son’s luxurious upbringing merely amplifies the traits that he shares with his father.
Because of his difficulties with his oldest son, Wang Lung resolves to try different approaches with his younger sons. He takes his second son out of school and makes him an apprentice to Liu. Wang Lung hopes that exposure to a practical trade will prevent the restlessness and desire for social prestige that plague his older son. Moreover, he wants his third son to be a farmer like himself, because his third son respects the earth’s healing power. He wants the entire family to stay close to the earth because he thinks that estrangement from the earth caused the Hwang family’s decline.
The words of Wang Lung’s daughter awaken Wang Lung to the guilt he bears for causing O-lan to suffer. He is also made uncomfortably (and perhaps somewhat unrealistically) aware of the suffering of women in his culture. Wang Lung realizes that bound feet cause pain. He also realizes that O-lan has been such a boon to him precisely because she did not have bound feet.
When Wang Lung discovers that his wife is dying, he is heartsick. Buck describes the kitchen as the place where O-lan spent her life to show the reader that for the first time, Wang Lung is beginning to understand his wife’s life and what she sacrificed.