The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

When Wang Lung's lust for Lotus is "somewhat slaked," he sees that O-lan and Cuckoo hate each other. O-lan cries again in front of Wang Lung and tells him having Cuckoo "is a bitter thing in my house." O-lan gets back at Cuckoo by not letting her use the kitchen. So Wang Lung has to build a separate kitchen for Cuckoo and Lotus. Cuckoo uses the freedom of her own kitchen to buy expensive food that Lotus demands. This expenditure becomes a thorn in Wang Lung's love.

Wang Lung's father finally notices Lotus and calls her a harlot. Wang Lung's twins lead his oldest daughter, poor fool, into Lotus's court and scare Lotus. She demands poor fool stay out of her presence. Finally, all the trouble Lotus causes in his household makes Wang Lung turn his heart to the land again. He calls Ching to start the wheat planting.

Analysis

Wang Lung feels shame in front of O-lan for taking in Lotus and Cuckoo. He feels this way though "he had done no more than any man may do who has silver to spare." As a dutiful wife, O-lan cannot complain about Lotus, but she can complain about Cuckoo. Cuckoo was a fellow slave at the House of Hwang who called O-lan "too ugly" and "too slow." As a woman and as an American, Buck develops Wang Lung as a character who feels shame for actions that were standard for that time in China. It is doubtful that a male Chinese author would have handled the character of Wang Lung the same way.

It is also interesting to note the way Wang Lung's father criticizes Wang Lung and calls Lotus a "harlot." Granted, Wang Lung's father never had the opportunity to take a concubine, but he couches his argument with a connection to the land. Wang Lung's father says, "I had one woman and my father had one woman and we farmed the land." What he means is: They did not stray from their land, which allowed them to uphold their virtue. This statement seems to complement that of Wang Lung's uncle's wife's statement in the previous chapter. She tells Wang Lung only poor men need to "drink from one cup," since Wang Lung's father was indeed a poor man. However, in her characterization of the two, it's clear Buck holds Wang Lung's father in higher esteem than Wang Lung's uncle's wife. Therefore, Wang Lung's father's statement has more weight.

In his haze of lust, Wang Lung had not thought through the consequences of bringing Lotus into his household. The trouble she creates slowly causes his love for her to diminish in his heart. He is especially galled by her disrespect of his children. He is "most angry of all that Lotus dared to curse" his "poor fool." This incident allows him to push his lust for Lotus from his heart and let the good earth back in. It is a joyous occasion, then, when at the end of the chapter he calls Ching to return to plowing and planting.

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