The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

Wang Lung discovers O-lan has been hiding a bundle of jewels from him. She found them during the looting in Kiangsu behind a loosened brick. Wang Lung knows they must sell the jewels and invest them in land. But he feels tenderness for O-lan and lets her keep two small pearls.

Wang Lung goes to the House of Hwang to buy more land. When he arrives, only Old Lord Hwang and his mistress Cuckoo are present. When she hears Wang Lung has money, she sends the Old Lord away. Wang Lung does not wish to deal with a woman, but he ends up having to do so. He makes sure the Old Lord will "set his own seal to the deeds of sale." Then Wang Lung agrees to buy the land from Cuckoo for jewels.

Analysis

Wang Lung "gifting" O-lan her own pearls is one the few times he shows true compassion for his wife. He looks "for an instant into the heart of this dull and faithful creature" and is moved by something he does not understand. He knows she has spent her whole life working without reward. Though he thinks her foolish, he grants her wish to have something nice of her own to take out and hold sometimes. The pearls become a symbol of Wang Lung's love.

Wang Lung fears to keep the jewels even overnight and knows from experience that his only safe investment is land. And so he returns to the House of Hwang. The once mighty family has fallen far, he finds. Cuckoo explains their fall came because "in the last generation the lords ceased to see the land." This illustrates both the necessity of one's connection to the earth and the corrupting power of wealth. In order to feed their unsavory habits brought on by wealth and idleness, the House of Hwang sold off their land. The result was that "the strength of the land" left them.

Wang Lung recognizes the danger of "leaving the land." He resolves to set his sons to "tasks in the field." They then can "take into their bones and their blood the feel of soil under their feet." In other words he wants them to be grounded and humble.

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