The Good Earth

The Good Earth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 2-6


The next morning Wang Lung feels that he has fully possessed O-lan and thinks of her as: "the woman who was now wholly his own." (25) Further, he finds her body beautiful -- large but strong. He begins to wonder if she likes him, and chastises himself for this foolish thought. However, when O-lan brings him water with tea leaves in it in the morning he sees this gesture as confirmation of her approval of him and is happy.

Wang Lung appreciates all the work O-lan performs around the house, especially given that he once performed her duties himself. Wang Lung is now freed to expend all of his energy in working the fields. O-lan is very resourceful -- she gathers fuel for the fire and fertilizer for the fields without being asked -- yet she hardly speaks a word.

One day, after finishing her household chores, O-lan joins Wang Lung in the fields. He is pleased to have her there, and they work in unison. After a day's work, O-lan then tells Wang Lung that she is with child, news that leaves him ecstatic.

O-lan does not want any help during childbirth, however, and is especially offended at the thought of having someone from the House of Hwang to help her. She has a detailed image of how she will present her firstborn to the Old Mistress, and Wang Lung gives her money to buy the fabric needed for new clothes. Her careful anticipation of the ceremony surprises Wang Lung, who surrenders the silver without pain for the first time in his life. O-lan holds the money in awe; she has never felt silver in her hand before.

The morning that she goes into labor, O-lan works the fields as before, only slower due to the pains. Wang Lung becomes annoyed at her slowness. O-lan returns to the house, prepares dinner, and then goes to her room and gives birth to a healthy baby boy, all on her own. The news of a boy child overjoys Wang Lung, who rushes into town to get eggs and sugar to celebrate.

Everyone in town congratulates Wang Lung on having a first-born son. He rejoices at his good fortune. However, he soon grows wary: "It did not do in this life to be too fortunate" (40). He thus decides to buy some incense for the gods, to ensure his well-being and that of his family.

O-lan's life returns to its previous rhythm quickly, except that now she must take her child with her and feed it whenever it is hungry. As she works in the fields with Wang Lung there is a parallel drawn between herself and the child and the earth: "The woman and the child were as brown as the soil and they say there like figures made of earth. There was dust upon the woman's hair and upon the child's soft black head" (41). Their first-born is a happy child, good natured and fat.

With the advent of winter Wang Lung and his family find themselves better stocked than ever before. There is more than they need around the house, and even some extra money. The money, something only Wang Lung and O-lan know about, is hidden inside the earthen wall of their room.

The New Year brings many preparations, especially in terms of traditions that shall ensure the coming of good fortune. Due to the good year they have had, Wang Lung is able to go into town and buy ingredients for O-lan to make moon cakes, fancy cakes traditionally eaten at the New Year by those who can afford them. Wang Lung is proud of the fact that his woman is the only one in the village capable of making such cakes. However, the more elaborate cakes are not for them to eat; as O-lan says: "We are not rich enough to eat white sugar and lard" (47). These she will take to the House of Hwang as an offering when she brings forth her son. Wang Lung is again impressed by his wife and is pleased to see the progress they have made economically. They are now in a position to go to the Great House bearing gifts.

Going to the Great House of Hwang is an event for Wang Lung and O-lan. There is a vast difference between their past poverty and their present prosperity. The once-insolent gateman treats Wang Lung with great respect. After her meeting with the Old Mistress, O-lan tells Wang Lung that the year has been economically hard on the House. O-lan herself was better dressed than the slaves in the house. Wang Lung is overjoyed at this, but is then scared of his good fortune. He says out loud: "What a pity our child is a female whom no one would want and covered with smallpox as well!" (51) This he says to appease the gods and show his humility.

O-lan continues to speak of the money spent in the Great House, on concubines, and opium, and gold, and riches. Wang Lung is transfixed by this luxurious lifestyle. But when he hears that they are considering selling land he finally understands: "Then indeed are they growing poor. Land is one's flesh and blood" (52). He stubbornly insists upon buying the land, even if it is far away from his fields. Finally, though, she consents and they decide to buy it.

Buying the land is something that changes Wang Lung. It is not as ceremonious as he would have liked, for he did not talk to the Great Lord himself, but rather to his agent. Nevertheless, Wang Lung is proud of his purchase, and vows to continue buying more and more land.

The advent of winter is a hard time for a peasant, and Wang Lung and O-lan work hard everyday. Also, O-lan is pregnant again. This time Wang Lung's reaction is not wholly positive because he fears that in her pregnant state O-lan will not be able to work in the field with him. However, she says that only the first time is difficult and up until the day of the birth she works in the fields beside Wang Lung. Indeed, after giving birth to the second child she goes out and works. Wang Lung feels the desire to tell her to rest but the exhaustion of his own body "made him cruel" (57) and instead he only asks whether the child is male or female. O-lan says it is another boy and Wang Lung is pleased: "Sons every year; the house was full of good fortune - this woman brought him nothing but good fortune." (57) Also, Wang Lung begins to be recognized as wealthy man, and there is talk of making him the head of the village.


These chapters speak to the growing relationship between Wang Lung and O-lan. Though O-lan rarely speaks, she shows admirable resourcefulness and forethought whenever she acts. She also works constantly; she is never idle and never complains. Moreover, she works in the fields as well as the house, whereas Wang Lung works only in the house. She even wins her husband's trust with the silver, coiming up with the idea to hide it in their earthen walls herself. To note that she is going "above and beyond the call of duty" is only fair.

And yet she is minimally rewarded. Wang Lung, though he acknowledges and the end of Chapter Six that O-lan has brought "good fortune" to the house, still thinks of her as "only a woman." He chastises himself whenever he thinks about her diligence because after all a woman does not deserve much thought. Even when she gives birth, Wang Lung thinks only of the child's gender, and not of her health: " 'Is it a man?' he cried importunately, forgetting the woman" (37). The low status of women, especially working-class women like O-lan, is pointedly evident, and the reader cannot help but feel such disrespect is unjust. O-lan is the silent backbone of Wang Lung's growing success. She is almost too perfect, giving birth between stints in the fields and directing her every thought to Wang Lung's fortune.

O-lan does begin to show some thought for herself, and to hint at her story, when she prepares to show her first-born child to the Old Mistress. Her adament refusal to accept help from the great House during her childbirth suggests that she was treated very badly during her time there. Wang Lung, though he might not fully recognize her worth, represents an escape from the nightmarish slavery she experienced at the house. She seems to take pride in displaying her first-born swathed in fine clothes, and is sure to point out the many clues that the great House's fortunes have declined even as Wang Lung and she have thrived.

Meanwhile, Buck emphasizes the extent to which Wang Lung's good fortune follows from the land. The cycle of the seasons informs their every decision and happiness. Indeed, Buck represents O-lan as a microcosm of the land. She, like the earth, is fertile and easy in these first chapters. She gives prosperously and without complaint. She and her sons are even explicitly linked with the "brown" soil. O-lan does not merely work the land, she is the good earth, and her strength -- and thus her family's strength -- follows from the health of the fields.

More broadly, these chapters illustrate class differences and the importance that is placed on status by rich and poor alike. Even food separates rich from poor, and, as O-lan says, the poor are not fit to eat the food of the rich. However, it is clear that things have gone well for Wang Lung and O-lan, and people who had formerly scoffed at them, like the gatekeeper at the Great House, now respect them. This good fortune fills Wang Lung with pride but also with fear. Fear of retribution from the gods is a constant in the novel, and Wang Lung's comment about his son (referring to him as a pockmarked girl, as though nothing could be worse) speaks to this fear.

As the section ends, the marks of ambition that will characterize Wang Lung throughout the novel grow evident -- if O-lan represents quiet perseverence, Wang Lung represents the allure of status. As much as he wishes to have more land, and thus increase his potential prosperity, Wang Lung wishes just as much to be seen as an important man, and he considers the Old Lord's failure to conduct the sale directly with him to be a great disappointment indeed.