The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 17 | Summary



After his large investment, Wang Lung has more land than he can plow by himself. He hires Ching and two more laborers to work for him. O-lan no longer works in the fields. She gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They also discover the older daughter cannot speak, and they call her "poor fool."

Over the next seven years Wang Lung builds his fortunes. He hires more men for his fields and harvests and builds an addition to the house. Ching functions as Wang Lung's overseer. After the fifth year Wang Lung spends less time in the fields himself because he must deal with the business aspects. He is ashamed in these dealings because he cannot read. He decides to let his older two sons attend school. The boys' old teacher gives them the names Nung En and Nung Wen.


Wang Lung explicitly equates idleness with ruin when he works on the land he bought from the House of Hwang. He remembers the "idle young lords" and makes sure his own sons work hard. After some years of fruitful toil, Wang Lung is respectably wealthy. He cannot read or write and recognizes this as a deficit. His solution is for his elder son to attend school. The younger son begs to be able to join him because he no longer wishes to "work like a hind." Thus the boys are removed from the earth at a young age. They never show the proper appreciation for the earth, which becomes a problem for Wang Lung in his later years. The names given the boys by their old teacher bear special significance as Nung means "one whose wealth is from the earth."

Wang Lung is well aware of the threat of famine, as droughts came once every 5 to 10 years. His goal in building up his business is to have enough to live through the lean years without ever having to leave the land again. He succeeds in this approach. Even though his house is now bigger and grander, he still forms the walls using the "hard tamped earth from the fields." This is to symbolize he remembers his roots and he hopes to remain humble. He does brush the walls with lime and they are "white and clean," a sign of his pride perhaps.

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