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The Good Earth | Quotes


Tea is like eating silver.

Wang Lung's father, Chapter 1

Wang Lung's father is a simple farmer and the son of a farmer. He is well connected to the earth and believes in the virtue of humility and hard work, characteristics he tries to instill in his son Wang Lung. Tea is a luxury to him and only for special occasions. Only the wealthy can drink tea on a regular basis.


There was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over.

Narrator, Chapter 2

The newlyweds are in perfect harmony with each other and with the earth. This communion with the earth and with each other soon leads to a "first harvest" of a firstborn son. This quote glorifies the couple's connection to the land and presents it as an ideal to be strived for. Their hard work is a virtue in stark contrast with idleness, a condition of the rich that equates with evil.


Land is one's flesh and blood.

Wang Lung, Chapter 5

Wang Lung believes that as long as he has his land, he has a reason to live. Thinking of his land is the only comfort he has later when he lives in poverty in the south. His hope to return to it is what keeps him alive.


The labor of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away.

Wang Lung, Chapter 8

Wang Lung understands his only chance for a safe investment is his land. Had he put his silver into a hiding spot in his wall, he could have been robbed. Had he invested in food and goods, these could have been taken or used up quickly. At this time in Chinese history, land was indeed a safe investment.


When the rich are too rich there are ways.

Wagon-pulling man, Chapter 13

The wagon-pulling man who lives on the edges of society in the south like Wang Lung tells him things will change. When the poor are too poor, they become desperate and will do anything to survive. And when the rich are too rich, they disregard the suffering of the poor. The wagon-pulling man's prediction is borne out when an uprising leads to poor people looting rich people's homes.


It seemed ... he had never been away from his land ... in his heart he never had.

Narrator, Chapter 15

This quote is key to understanding Wang Lung's connection to the "good earth." As long as his heart is occupied with his land, he retains his good values.


This time tomorrow—this time or this afternoon—all times are alike!

Cuckoo, Chapter 16

Cuckoo says this in response to Wang Lung's caution about buying the House of Hwang's land from a woman. And it is not just a woman, but a slave woman. Cuckoo knows she would rather do the deal with Old Lord Hwang. But in this quote she indicates she is in control of Old Lord Hwang. She will be in charge of selling the land whenever Wang Lung might come.


There is that about you which makes me think of one of the lords in the great house.

O-lan, Chapter 19

Though Wang Lung takes this as a compliment, O-lan does not mean it to be. She means she sees an unfamiliar decadence in him and suspects he is doing something dishonorable.


It is only the poor man who must needs drink from one cup.

Wang Lung's uncle's wife, Chapter 20

The taking of concubines is a practice reserved for the very wealthy. They alone can afford to keep beautiful women around purely for pleasure. Wang Lung's uncle's wife encourages Wang Lung to take Lotus as a concubine. Most likely she sees her opportunity to profit by association with Lotus.


I had one woman and my father had one woman and we farmed the land.

Wang Lung's father, Chapter 21

Old Master Hwang squandered his fortune in part because he took too many concubines. This decadence is in stark contrast with the humble values of a farmer who is connected to his land. When he discovers Lotus, Wang Lung's father criticizes his son for his extravagance.


A farmer's wife am I not, be you what you like!

Lotus, Chapter 22

This is significant because Lotus is rejecting the virtuous, humble life of the "good earth." She will always be a symbol of Wang Lung's temptation into a life of decadence and the corrupting power of wealth.


It is not my fault if I have not loved her as one loves a concubine, since men do not.

Wang Lung, Chapter 25

This is Wang Lung's justification for not loving O-lan because she is ugly. Later he tells Nung En it is not seemly to love his wife like a harlot. Due to the influence of his culture, Wang Lung believes wives are for duty and bearing sons and concubines are for pleasure and love.


Beauty will not bear a man sons!

O-lan, Chapter 26

These are O-lan's dying words and her only condemnation of Lotus. O-lan worries who will take care of Wang Lung after she is gone. She knows a beautiful concubine does not have the character or the constitution to do so. She realizes Wang Lung loves Lotus more due to her beauty and O-lan's ugliness. O-lan is also proud that she ultimately has more value to Wang Lung because she faithfully kept him and bore him sons.


This house I will have!

Wang Lung, Chapter 28

Wang Lung sits on the dais where the Old Mistress Hwang once looked down on him. He realizes his lifelong dream is within his reach. His renting of the House of Hwang is a symbolic move. It shows how far he has come since investing in his first small plot of Hwang land.


If you sell the land, it is the end.

Wang Lung, Chapter 34

When he overhears his sons discussing selling the land, Wang Lung becomes upset. He warns them against selling the land. Wang Lung has witnessed the fall of the once great House of Hwang. He knows a fall would be imminent if his sons disregard their roots in the land and become corrupted by their wealth. Even though they assure their father they will not sell, their smiles imply they are merely humoring him. They will do whatever they wish.

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