The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 20 | Summary

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Summary

Wang Lung's uncle returns. He comes to Wang Lung's house and eats his food and sleeps in his father's bed. Seeing Wang Lung's wealth, his uncle brings his wife and son to live there. Even though it makes him "exceedingly angry," Wang Lung must accept this as a family duty.

Wang Lung's uncle's wife is the first to understand what Wang Lung is up to with Lotus. "Wang Lung is seeking to pluck a flower somewhere," she says. She tells O-lan that Wang Lung is in love with another woman. Wang Lung overhears and decides to buy Lotus and bring her home. He asks his uncle's wife to arrange this for him, and she agrees.

Wang Lung has separate apartments built for Lotus and spares no expense. O-lan weeps openly in front of Wang Lung, but he is heartless toward her. Lotus finally comes to live in Wang Lung's house, with Cuckoo as a personal servant. Now Wang Lung "ate and drank of his love and he feasted alone and he was satisfied."

Analysis

His conflict with nature (drought and floods) notwithstanding, Wang Lung's biggest antagonist in the novel is his uncle. Wang Lung's uncle is a dishonorable man. He uses the cultural norm of elder care and filial responsibility to take advantage of Wang Lung. This attitude aggrieves Wang Lung, but as O-lan rightly advises, "Cease to be angry. It is a thing to be borne."

And Wang Lung is not fond of his uncle's wife or son either. Wang Lung describes the son's face as "scampish" and "impudent." This is a foreshadowing to all the grief he will soon bring into Wang Lung's house. Wang Lung's uncle's wife actually does Wang Lung a favor when it comes to Lotus. She tells O-lan that Wang Lung loves another. Wang Lung's eavesdropping on this conversation puts the thought in his head of taking Lotus as a second woman. As his uncle's wife tells him, "It is only the poor man who must needs drink from one cup."

In Chinese culture of the time, a rich man taking a concubine was no evil act and was encouraged. A wife did not need to be beautiful, she merely needed to bear sons, and O-lan fits this role perfectly. And so if a wife was not beautiful, it was expected that a rich man takes a concubine for her beauty. Because Lotus is unlikely to bear him sons, her only value is in her beauty. Wang Lung is conscious he may have made a very bad choice in taking Lotus under his roof. But it is not on account of O-lan he thinks this; rather, it is because of his pride. Despite its acceptance in Chinese culture, however, Wang Lung's acquisition of Lotus may be criticized. It is obvious that O-lan feels great pain over the matter. She weeps openly in front of Wang Lung, something she had never done "even when they starved." For his part Wang Lung is at least ashamed when she says over and over "I have borne you sons." He knows O-lan has done no wrong by him, and "his desire" is his only justification.

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