The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 12 | Summary



Wang Lung gets to know the streets of the city he now lives in, Kiangsu. However, "his road was always ended at a gate." He hears young men talking about revolution, but it does "not occur to Wang Lung that anyone was speaking to him." He also has his first American passenger, a woman who gives him double his usual fare.

Wang Lung's younger son grows better at stealing than begging, which upsets Wang Lung but not O-lan. One day they have meat in their pot, but Wang Lung refuses to eat it when he finds out his son stole it. He beats him soundly after the meal and laments, "We must get back to the land."


Wang Lung and his family are survivors, and they adapt well to their new surroundings. However, they live on the edges of society. They are like rats "in a rich man's house," hiding and "never a part of the real life of the house." They live on scraps, but at least the scraps are plentiful. Back on their barren land, "silver in the hand was worth little because it could buy nothing where nothing was."

But Wang Lung does not love "life in the shadow of the great wall." He wants to go back to his land where he can work and his family can live in honor. He hates that his family has to beg, but he hates the dishonor of stealing even more. "Beggars we may be," he says to them, "but thieves we are not." He knows, however, if they stay in the city like rats much longer they may all lose their honor.

The men Wang Lung hears on the streets speak out against foreigners, colonialism, and Catholicism. These men are sowing the seeds for the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising in northern China that took place between November 1899 and September 1901. That places Wang Lung's arrival in Kiangsu probably around 1898.

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