The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

It is springtime, and O-lan and the boys supplement their diet with wildflowers. The swarm of poor around them begins to talk in the evenings about what they might do if they had silver. They would be idle, gamble, and eat fish. But Wang Lung only thinks of getting back to his land.

Out giving rides in the city, Wang Lung is handed many strange pamphlets he cannot read. One features Jesus on the cross; another a poor Chinese man. Unrest grows among the poor, and one day Wang Lung sees soldiers seize many common men. He hides in a hot water shop until the danger passes and then returns to the hut. He tells O-lan what he has seen and again considers selling his daughter, but O-lan wisely suggests waiting a few days.

Instead of going out during the day, Wang Lung takes a wagon-pulling job at night for half the pay. During the next days no one speaks to each other. Fear grips the city. The public kitchens close. O-lan can no longer beg because no one passes by on the streets. In their extreme desperation Wang Lung decides it is now time to sell the girl.

But the gates of the rich are suddenly blown open. O-lan and Wang Lung join the mob of people who loot the house beyond their wall. Wang Lung does not steal anything. But he happens upon a purple-robed rich man who gives him all his gold out of fear for his life.

Analysis

The Boxer Rebellion has come to Kiangsu. It is an uprising in northern China that took place between November 1899 and September 1901. The uprising was vocally against Catholics and foreigners. But the mobs of poor people that formed took the opportunity to loot rich people's houses and take anything they could. Wang Lung has reached his rock bottom—no job, no food, and no one to beg from. Then fate intervenes in the form of violence. But whereas the mob is detrimental to him in Chapter 8, the mob is beneficial to him here. Perhaps remembering how awful it is to be attacked, Wang Lung steals nothing outright.

However, he happens upon a hiding, panicked, fat man naked but for a purple silk robe. The man cries out in fear and offers Wang Lung money not to kill him. Wang Lung is "a man so soft-hearted that he could not kill an ox." But he sees a way to get back to his land in the word money. He instructs the man to give him money, and then to give him more. Wang Lung does not actually threaten the man before the man hands over the money. So Wang Lung can believe he did not technically steal anything from him. This cognitive dissonance is a defense mechanism Wang Lung uses to justify his dishonorable actions.

It is interesting to note Wang Lung feels he is above other poor men because he owns land and wants to work hard on it. It is Wang Lung's connection to working his land that keeps him grounded and not interested in gambling or idleness. This work ethic is what ends up making him successful and virtuous. It is only when he cannot work his land and gets bored (Chapter 19) that he slips into dishonor.

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