The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

The city is opulent, but Wang Lung lives "in the foundations of poverty upon which it was laid." The poor labor for the rich, Wang Lung among them. Wang Lung longs to return to his land, and O-lan suggests the only item of value they have to sell is their daughter. Wang Lung refuses, but he finds himself being tempted by the thought.

A man tells Wang Lung what is inside the wall his hut leans against. The man has sold two of his daughters as slaves inside the great house and has seen its riches. He believes the rich are too rich and this cannot last forever. Wang Lung is again tempted to sell his daughter.

Analysis

This chapter explores social inequality and the way the rich exploit the poor. The wagon-pulling man is wise when he states change must happen when the poor are too poor and the rich are too rich. When the poor are too poor, they will do anything to survive. This has been touched on several times in previous chapters, most notably in Chapter 8 when the desperate mob attacks Wang Lung's house. This is also the reason why the poor sell their own children into slavery.

When the rich are too rich, they forget the poor, and they ignore the suffering that goes on outside their gates. Among the poor, the older generation grudgingly accepts their lot, but the younger generation grows discontent with the status quo. They hate that they must work "more severely than beasts, and for nothing except a handful of refuse to fill their bellies." This discontent is the basis for revolution, and revolution is brewing, even if Wang Lung does not sense it yet.

O-lan understands selling her own daughter may be her family's only chance to return to their land. Though she hated her life as a slave, she seems to accept the choice as a necessary sacrifice. She does not relish the idea of selling the girl. If it were only her own life at stake, she would rather kill the girl than sell her. O-lan is arguably the most sympathetic character in the novel. The suggestion of selling the female child shows just how terribly desperate life really is for the poor.

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