The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

On the seventh year after Wang Lung's return, there is a great flood. Wang Lung is not afraid because his house is on a hill and he has plenty of reserves and silver. However, because his fields are under water, he cannot work. At first he enjoys his leisure, but he soon grows tired of sleeping and hanging around his house. He even has time to really take a hard look at O-lan and what he sees is a "dull and common creature." He reproaches her as not being fit to be the wife of a rich man, especially due to her large feet.

Wang Lung goes out into town, eager to spend his silver on enjoyment. He visits an expensive tea shop day after day to sit alone and drink tea. One day Cuckoo approaches him. She addresses him with "malice" as Wang the farmer. She tempts him with wine and women. He looks at the pictures of the prostitutes he could hire and decides he likes Lotus Flower best. He does not buy her this night but goes home with secret lust in his heart.

Analysis

When the next calamity strikes, Wang Lung is ready. He and his family will not fear starvation this time or fear they will be driven physically from their land. However, Wang Lung is driven from his land in the spiritual sense. Because he cannot work his land, his connection with it is weakened. Idleness begins to break down his virtue to put him squarely on the path to "ruin," something he feared for his sons in the last chapter.

It starts with his pitiless examination of O-lan, a woman without whom he would not be a fraction as successful. He sees "for the first time" that she is "without any sort of beauty or light." He is especially horrified by her large, unbound feet. Chinese custom at the time was to bind the feet of wealthy girls to symbolize they did not need to work. In fact such girls could not walk much at all, so they became "toys" for the men who kept them. O-lan's unbound feet mark her as a peasant. Her feet did not bother Wang Lung as long as he needed her to work. As a poor man, he did not have the luxury of desiring a woman with bound feet. As a rich man he is ashamed of how her unkempt appearance reflects on him. At the same time Wang Lung knows it is wrong to be "unjust" to O-lan. This is because of her loyalty, but also because he owes his wealth to her finding the jewels.

At the teahouse, he admires the pictures of "dream women," especially a picture of "a small, slender thing." Cuckoo is a clever woman and knows that to ensnare men like Wang Lung, she need only to wound their pride. After telling him "a little silver will turn [dream women] into flesh," she mocks him and makes him feel like a "country bumpkin." In this way she sows the seeds for Wang Lung's betrayal of O-lan.

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