The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

To celebrate the New Year, O-lan bakes moon cakes. Her skill at it means her cakes rival those eaten by the rich, like the House of Hwang. But her fancy cakes are meant for the rich and not for her family or the villagers.

On the second day of the New Year, Wang Lung escorts O-lan and his son to the House of Hwang. The gateman greets him this time with respect. The gateman's wife offers him tea while he waits for O-lan. After the visit O-lan reports the House of Hwang seems to be in decline. Because of the Old Mistress's dependence on opium and the rest of the house's spendthrift ways, the Old Mistress wishes to sell land. Wang Lung decides he will buy the land.

Analysis

"Land is one's flesh and blood," Wang Lung declares when he hears the House of Hwang wishes to sell land. Wang Lung equates selling land with growing poor. He cannot imagine why one would sell otherwise. Indeed the House of Hwang has strayed far from its once rich connection with its land. The people within it have chosen decadence over hard work. Wang Lung can profit from their mistakes, buying their land to improve his own fortunes.

Wang Lung has a very different experience with the House of Hwang's gateman now that he has experienced some success. Instead of ridiculing Wang Lung, the gateman invites him into his "wretched" room and gives him the seat of honor. Wang Lung does not act humbly toward the gateman or his pock-marked wife. He speaks to the gateman "negligently as one speaks to a man who is scarcely an equal." He does not drink the tea offered to him, "as though it were not good enough in quality of tea leaves for him."

Wang Lung and O-lan take delight that the House of Hwang is "feeling a pinch." O-lan's delight is driven by her memories of being mistreated by them. Wang Lung feels pride he has done well. But this pride immediately brings fear, for his superstition tells him he has done a foolish thing to brag. If an evil spirit should see his "beautiful man child," harm might befall them. He immediately covers up his pride with a humble lie to ward off any evil spirits.

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