The protagonist of the novel, a Chinese peasant at the beginning and a rich landowner by the end. Sometimes innocent and naive, sometimes brave and pragmatic, generally gentle and caring, Wang Lung reflects the myriad thematic elements of the text, for example the role of tradition, of beauty, and of marriage. His one unwavering characteristic is his love of and appreciation for the land.
Wang Lung's father
Wang Lung's father exemplifies the role of elders in traditional society. As tradition dictates, Wang Lung must care for him in his old age. During the course of the novel, he is often a voice of wisdom and a witness to the changes that the family undergoes.
Wang Lung's uncle
The epitome of greed, Wang Lung's uncle parasitically lives off of his hard-working brother and nephew. He often asks Wang Lung for money, and when his nephew gets rich he moves his family into Wang Lung's house. He causes Wang Lung much grief, inciting a mob to raid his farm at the beginning of the novel. At the same time, he keeps Wang Lung "safe" since he is one of the heads of an infamous band of robbers, the Red Beards. These criminals leave Wang Lung alone because of his presence in the house. To end his mischief, Wang Lung turns his uncle into an opium addict.
Old Mistress of the House of Hwang
A symbol of the excess of wealth, she is an opium addict, a woman used to luxury and cruelty. She is the woman who gives O-lan to Wang Lung. When the house goes into decline she dies from her opium addiction.
Wang Lung's wife. Previously, she had served for ten years as a servant in the House of Hwang, as a kitchen slave. She is plain, which causes her much shame and hurt throughout her life. Her feet are large and thus considered unattractive. However, despite these superficial flaws, O-lan has a rich inner life and continually exhibits resourcefulness, practicality, loyalty and patience. She embodies the giving qualities of the earth. She is also primarily responsible for Wang Lung's wealth, a fact that he never fully acknowledges.
Gateman of the House of Hwang
Distinguised by the mole on his face, the gateman scorns Wang Lung as a peasant at first, later respecting Wang Lung when he gains wealth. When the Great House falls into decline he is among the band of robbers that raids the house.
Initially Wang Lung's neighboor, during the time of famine he raids Wang Lung's house for food along with the rest of the village men. However, he also gives Wang Lung some beans for O-lan on the day before her birth. After the famine his wife dies and he gives his daughter away. He then becomes Wang Lung's right-hand man, in charge of managing the land until his dying day. When he dies Wang Lung mourns him like a brother.
A concubine of the Old Lord in the House of Hwang, Cuckoo later becomes the manager at the town tea shop. She moves in with Wang Lung after he buys Lotus. Always a chameleon, Cuckoo survives by adapting when hard times hit. She and O-lan are bitter enemies and O-lan never welcomes her into her house.
A beautiful woman who becomes Wang Lung's mistress. She is a prostitute at the tea shop until Wang Lung purchases her. Dainty, delicate, and graceful, she is O-lan's opposite. Lotus is also crafty, greedy, and manipulative.
Wang Lung's eldest son
A spirited and willful man, Wang Lung's eldest son wants to be a scholar. He suffers from the idleness of wealth. Before O-lan dies he marries the town beauty, a superficial woman much like Lotus. By the end of the novel we see that he has become a respected man in town, and he follows in his father's footsteps by acquiring a second wife.
Wang Lung's second son
Crafty, thrifty, and industrious, Wang Lung's second son becomes a grain merchant. Ultimately he controls all of the finances of the house and discourages his elder brother's spending. He marries a practical woman from the country who is completely the opposite of his brother's wife.
Wang Lung's third son
One of the two twins, Wang Lung's youngest son is an enigma to his father. Slated to work the land, he is unhappy with this fate and instead wishes to study. He later decides to become a soldier and becomes an important figure in the Revolution. He also shows an interest in Peach Blossom and runs away when Wang Lung takes her for a concubine.
Wang Lung's first daughter
Referred to as "his poor fool," Wang Lung's daughter just before the famine hits. She suffers from extreme malnutrition, and though she survives she never learns to speak or interact with others. Wang Lung has a soft spot in his heart for her and cares for her even as others mock her.
Wang Lung's second daughter
The second of the two twins, she is beautiful and O-lan makes sure that her feet are bound so that her husband will not reject her. She is sent to her betrothed's house when she is still young in order to avoid Wang Lung's nephew's advances.
Wang Lung's nephew
True to his father's nature, Wang Lung's nephew is lazy, lustful, and prone to trouble. He takes Wang Lung's eldest son to see a prostitute in town, and he also shows too much interest in his little female cousin. He then decides to go to war and become a soldier, and pays his family an unwelcome visit with his troop when they come through town.
The patriarch of the House of Hwang. He embodies the negative qualities of the rich: their luxuriant and unsustainable lifestyles, as well as their lust for women.
A slave bought by Wang Lung and given to Lotus. Frail, delicate and beautiful, Pear Blossom is afraid of all men with the exception of Wang Lung. She becomes his second concubine by the end of the novel, and is with Wang Lung till the end of his days.
The local prostitute. Wang Lung's eldest son goes to her with his cousin. Described as grotesque, she represents the ugliness at the core of lust.
Eldest son's wife
A town woman, she is very proper and class conscious. She is always comparing her current standard of living with the way things were in her father's house.
Second son's wife
A country girl, she is the complete opposite of the eldest son's wife. She is loud and boisterous, not proper like the town woman, and this is why they do not get along.
Wang Lung's uncle's wife
Described as fat and lazy, she is a woman that enjoys the good life that her husband cannot give her. She is the one that arranges for the purchase of Lotus and in fact becomes her friend. Ultimately, she dies from her opium addiction.
A respectable merchant, Liu is the father of Wang Lung's eldest son's wife and of of his youngest daughter's husband. Also, he is the man in charge of his second son's apprenticeship as a grain merchant. Like Wang Lung, he is a hard working man.
The Good Earth Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Good Earth is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Everything in Wang Lung's life comes from the earth: the farmhouse, the oven, food, money from selling food and even the little earth gods. The earth nurtures Wang Lung's dreams and he becomes financially successful from it.
There is still strange talk among the poor. Wang Lung hears a cryptic message from one of his neighbors. Times will change soon: "When the rich are too rich there are ways, and when the poor are too poor there are ways" (118). There is a point...