The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 11 | Summary



Wang Lung pays for 100 miles of road south with his silver and gets back a handful of copper pence. He buys food with some of it, though none of his family has much appetite. Wang Lung receives advice from fellow travelers about what to do when they reach their destination.

Once in the strange city, Wang Lung buys mats for all. They go to the public kitchens to eat for their pennies. O-lan teaches her sons how to beg. They treat it as a game at first. But O-lan scolds and slaps them until they understand the gravity of their situation. Wang Lung rents a rickshaw and works very hard all day carrying passengers. He is also cheated on his first fare, out of ignorance. Another rickshaw puller tells him he must always argue, that only foreigners pay a good price because they are "fools." He only earns one penny above the rent of the rickshaw. O-lan and the boys earn money as well, but Wang Lung's father does not beg and does not earn anything.


Many of Wang Lung's fellow travelers have experienced this kind of desperation before, including O-lan. They know what is to be done to survive in a city. From her girlhood O-lan has experience in begging and fashioning mats. Wang Lung realizes how little he knows about O-lan. She reveals to him an important part of her backstory: "In such a year as this I was sold a slave." Wang Lung is fine with his family begging, "but he had his two hands." Wang Lung still has his honor, and he wishes to work. But Wang Lung's work is barely sustainable and does not earn much above what begging earns O-lan. He returns to his hut "in great bitterness." He only calms down by thinking of his land, his "good earth" that has become a symbol for him. As long as his land is waiting for him, he can find the strength to go on.

Wang Lung's father does not work or beg. He claims by begetting "a son and son's sons" he has already done his duty and simply trusts he will be fed. Wang Lung's father's attitude is typical of elders at this time in Chinese society, and this attitude stays no matter how dire the situation becomes.

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