The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 19 | Summary



Wang Lung is so restless with the high water that he puts on his coat made for feast days and returns to the tea shop. It is a place "where men met to play and never to work." Cuckoo dismisses him as a "farmer," so he proves he is a rich man by showing her a pocket of silver. He asks for Lotus, and Cuckoo leads him up the stairs.

Wang Lung is enchanted by Lotus and stares at her, not believing her to be real. She laughs at his ignorance and teaches him the ways of love. Afterward Wang Lung becomes obsessed with Lotus and returns to her night after night, never having enough. He is ill tempered with his family, who does not understand his odd behavior. O-lan realizes he is "living some life apart from her" and is afraid of his quick anger. Because Lotus demands many luxuries from Wang Lung, including jewels, Wang Lung demands O-lan give him her hidden pearls. She gives them up in tears.


Now for the first time, Wang Lung "leaves" his land, even in his heart, which creates room for him to become lovesick over Lotus. It is a "sickness which is greater than any a man can have." He will do anything for Lotus. This includes cutting off his long braid, giving up garlic, and betraying O-lan not only in body but also in spirit. When he takes the pearls he once "allowed" her to keep, Wang Lung truly wounds her. The pearls symbolize his love for O-lan. When he takes them to give to Lotus, O-lan understands he is lost to her. It is one of the few times she cries in her hard life.

Whereas O-lan is very much a "flesh and blood" woman, Lotus represents a fantasy for Wang Lung. With her "figure slender as bamboo" and "apricot eyes," Lotus is a "painted picture of a woman" to him. She epitomizes everything Wang Lung never thought he could have as a poor farmer. To fall in love with her is like falling in love with the aristocratic version of himself. In this sense he becomes consumed not only with her but also with how he appears to others. This leads him to disdain everything that does fit with his new image, including his own family.

O-lan may be continually described as "slow." Even though she does not understand her husband has taken another woman, she does see the decay of his virtue. She tells him, "There is that about you which makes me think of one of the lords in the great house." This is not a compliment, even though he is "pleased" and takes it as such. The lords of the House of Hwang were all idle, foolish men, estranged from their land, which led to their downfall. By comparing Wang Lung to these men, O-lan is warning him of his own corrupting heart.

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