The Good Earth | Study Guide

Pearl S. Buck

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The Good Earth | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

A time of drought comes, and the sky refuses to rain. Wang Lung gives up on his wheat fields but continues to haul water to his rice until the pond dries up. The only field to produce a harvest is the land he bought from the House of Hwang, and this only because he used moat water. He sells his harvest immediately and buys another piece of land from the Hwang's agent but does not tell even O-lan about it.

The drought continues and the fields produce only a few beans and corncobs. O-lan is pregnant again, and her milk dries up so even the youngest child has nothing to eat. O-lan ends up killing their ox for food. Yet the first time Wang Lung's uncle comes by, Wang Lung gives him a few handfuls of what they have. The second time his uncle asks for food, Wang Lung turns him away. His uncle speaks ill of him in town and a mob comes to search for their "hidden" stash of food. Even his neighbor Ching steals a handful of beans.

Analysis

Wang Lung feels like the gods have turned against him. Despite all his hard work, he cannot make his plants grow with a dwindling source of water. O-lan tells him to save the water for the family, but Wang Lung laments "all their lives depended upon the earth." Though they are being good to the earth, the earth is not being good to them. That is, except in the case of the rice field that used to belong to the House of Hwang. Due to its proximity to the moat, Wang Lung is able to get one good harvest from it. The silver he earns he reinvests in more land.

This might seem like a crazy move in a time of drought when he has a family to feed. Yet it turns out Wang Lung's instincts are right. If he had hidden his silver or bought food with it, the village mob would have found it and stolen it. "The labor of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away," he says.

The mob scene illustrates what desperate people do in desperate times. It may not have come to such thievery had Wang Lung's uncle not turned on him like a "lean dog." It is ironic that Wang Lung's uncle expects such familial loyalty from Wang Lung when he obviously has none to give in return. This mob scene is also a foreshadowing to the mob scene in Chapter 14.

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