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During and after the famine Wang Lung's attitude undergoes a drastic change. This time he goes to the temple only to spit on the statues of the gods and accuse God himself of desiring misfortune for men: "Oh, you are too wicked, you Old Man in Heaven!" he says (p. 66). When he returns from the city, after the drought and famine are over, he finds the statues in the temple looking bedraggled. No one has paid them any attention during the famine. "Thus it is with gods who do evil to men!" he says (p. 124).
This hostility to the gods, or to the supreme God, becomes stronger in Wang Lung as he gets older. He repeats these sentiments to Ching, when Ching informs him of the approaching flood (Chapter 28). Wang Lung appears to believe that the "old man in heaven" enjoys the sight of human suffering.
But it also appears that he cannot completely shake off his religious beliefs or his observance of religious customs. When his grandson is about to be born, he ensures that incense is offered to the gods in the temple in the town, which is a more elaborate temple dedicated to the "goddess of mercy" in a "gilded alcove" (p. 257). Then he goes to the country temple and does the same thing-just as he did when he was first married, and when he was expecting his first child. So it seems that Wang Lung, despite his anger at the gods, remains to a certain extent within the framework of beliefs and customs that are normative for his society.
3. Why does O-lan kill her infant daughter? Is it an act of mercy or a crime?
The incident in which O-lan appears to kill her daughter, probably by strangulation, comes in chapter 9. The context is the famine the village is enduring, which is reaching its worst point. There is no food for anyone, and there are rumors that in the village, people are even eating human flesh in order to survive.
The narrative does not state explicitly that O-lan killed the baby, but it is strongly implied. Wang Lung heard the baby cry, so it was born alive. But when he enters O-lan's room, he finds the baby dead on the floor, and he notices "two dark, bruised spots" on its neck (p. 71).
There is no doubt that O-lan regards her deed as an act of mercy. Throughout the novel she is presented as a good mother; she would not have destroyed her own offspring had she not believed it was for the best. Was she correct in her belief? Whether this was an act of mercy or a crime depends on one's own beliefs about when it is permissible to take life and when it is not. But it would perhaps be a hard heart that condemned a starving woman who ended the life of a tiny malnourished infant ("a wisp of bone and skin") perhaps a few more hours or days than it would otherwise have endured. This is certainly the conclusion that Wang Lung reaches. After he has buried the dead baby, he mutters to himself, "it is better as it is" (p.72).
However, there is another side to the question. It may be significant that the baby was a girl. In the society depicted in the novel, a baby girl was not considered cause for great rejoicing, even in good times. When O-lan gives birth to her first daughter, she refers to it as a slave, "not worth mentioning" (p. 56). Would O-lan have been so quick to snuff out the life of her child, even in the midst of a terrible famine, if the child had been a boy? It seems unlikely. It was easier for her to kill the infant girl, given the lower value that the society in which she lived placed on women's lives. Had the baby been a boy, she might have felt a stronger need to try to preserve his life, hoping against hope that he would survive.