The Good Earth

The Good Earth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 22-24


Working all day on the land, Wang Lung finally shakes his love sickness. Lotus is horrified to see Wang Lung revert to his farmer identity, but Wang Lung is overjoyed: "Now you see that your lord is but a farmer and you a farmer's wife!" (213) Wang Lung stops washing daily, browns his skin in the sun, hardens his hands, and returns to garlic and bread, even while Lotus complains. She has no power over him now.

After the harvest, Wang Lung sells his grain when the price is highest, taking his eldest son to manage the contracts and negotiations. He feels pride at his well-mannered and intelligent sons. Wang Lung plans to find his eldest son a good wife and consults Ching, despite his feeling that Ching is too "simple" to be much help in the matter.

The elder son suddenly grows moody and petulant, losing interest in school. When he refuses to attend classes, Wang Lung grows angry and beats him. O-lan steps in, taking many of the blows herself, and states that the son simply needs a slave. She has seen such moody behavior in the young lords of the Great House. Wang Lung, though secretly proud that he has raised a son who can indulge in melancholy, announces that he will not buy his son a slave but rather find him a wife.

Wang Lung consults Lotus about finding a wife for his eldest son, and Lotus answers that she knew a man who used to come to the tea house who said he has a daughter who resembles her. Lotus says that he is a grain merchant, and that if Wang Lung so desires Cuckoo could serve as a matchmaker. But Wang Lung wants more time to think about it before he makes any decisions.

Wang Lung's elder son comes home intoxicated one day, and he forces his younger son to tell where he has been. He learns that his son has been on a three-day bender with his cousin, and that they've been seeing the local village prostitute. Wang Lung searches out this woman, Yang, and offers to pay her twice her rate to refuse his son each time he comes to her. She agrees. When Wang Lung returns he tells Cuckoo to arrange for his eldest son's marriage to the daughter of Liu, the grain merchant. She does so, scheduling the marriage to take place in three years, as the girl is only fourteen years old. Wang Lung dreads enduring his son's moodiness for three more years.

As for his uncle, Wang Lung threatens to throw him and his family out of his house due to his son's rampant corruption. His uncle remains quiet, then shows Wang Lung a red beard and a length of red cloth. These are the signs of the Redbeards, a band of robbers that have been terrorizing people in the area. Wang Lung realizes that his property has been spared not due to the favor of the gods, but because his uncle is one of the bandits. There is nothing he can do to his uncle now; he can merely appease him. Wang Lung goes out of his way to make his uncle's family feel at home.

Wang Lung once again turns to the land to calm his mind. The only one of his children that continually brings him uncomplicated joy is his poor fool, his eldest daughter. However, even the land holds problems, as a plague of locusts is rumored to be coming. Most of the villagers despair at the news; Wang Lung, however, decides to fight the locusts, and he, his men, and some more local farmers go out and set fire to some of the fields. Although the locusts devour some of Wang Lung's fields, many are saved. Later, many of the people of the village eat the locusts, but Wang Lung cannot. He sees them only as destroyers of his crops.

Soon after, Wang Lung's eldest son comes to him and asks to go south to a boarding school so he can continue learning. Wang Lung says no; in his eyes his son already knows more than enough. Also, Wang Lung has grown jealous of his son's delicate and fine features: "one would have said he was his son's servant rather than his father" (236). He tells his son that he should work the land and prove that he is a man. Lotus soon approaches Wang Lung on his son's behalf, but Wang Lung does not budge. After a few days the eldest son seems content enough, and although he does not go to school he stays in his room and reads, something that Wang Lung does not oppose.

Soon, Wang Lung has restored his stash of silver gained back Lotus' price. He is also "proud to own her" (238) and, with her life of luxury and leisure her beauty has been augmented as her features have become softer and more rounded. For O-lan, however, things have not been going as well. She looks tired and gaunt, and she continues to say that she has "fire in her vitals." However, she works as hard as ever and does not complain.

One night, O-lan approaches Wang Lung with terrible news. She tells him that his eldest son has been visiting Lotus in the inner courts when he is gone. Wang Lung does not believe her, but O-lan says he can confirm it by coming back from the fields earlier than expected one day. Later that night Lotus refuses his company and he begins to wonder. He returns from the fields unexpected the next day and finds his son talking with Lotus. Enraged, Wang Lung beats them both and exiles his son, telling him to go south and never return until he is asked.


As his prestige increases, Wang Lung's relationship with the land becomes at once complicated and simple. It has a calming effect on him -- when he works the land, grows brown, eats garlic and smells of the earth, he is happy. He knows his vocation: he is a farmer. In this way, the earth is an entity of simple pleasures and tasks, of repetition and innovation. Indeed, Wang Lung emerges as a very sharp farmer indeed when he avoids falling victim to the swarm of locusts. At the same time, his ties to the land complicate his home life. Lotus despises his farmer's ways, though she cannot choose but submit to him. Similarly, Wang Lung's son has been trained as a scholar -- he lacks his father's native affinity for the land. Buck further complicates these rifts between Wang Lung the farmer and Wang Lung the rich man because Wang Lung's riches are due in great part to his diligence in the fields. If he had never been such a good farmer, he would never be such a rich man.

Wang Lung's two seperate halfs, the hard-worker and the man of indulgence, are illustrated in his two women. O-lan, the mother of his children who even resembles the plain, strong earth, captures Wang Lung's farmer half. Lotus shows his weakness for the gentler things in life, the refined ways of the city. Wang Lung is proud of his ability to juggle these two women -- and the two halves of his persona that they represent. He especially enjoys the way that the locals respect him for keeping two wives. But this state is unstable, as we see repeatedly, and though Wang Lung may escape to the fields from time to time, he can't sustain his contradictory interests indefinitely.

These two broad themes, the country Wang Lung and the city Wang Lung, manifest in nearly every moment of this section. Wang Lung's relationship with his son, for instance, captures the mix of pride and shame he feels at his family's newfound luxary. His son is not a man of the soil -- he is soft, white and elegant, whereas Wang Lung looks like a peasant. Wang Lung is proud of his son's erudition, and even secretly thrilled that his son has a rich boy's privilege to be moody and melancholic. But his son does not balance these tendencies the way that Wang Lung does. He doesn't have a drive to work that off-sets this self-indulgence. Is there any wonder that Lotus, who has only known indulgent ways, feels more comfortable with the son than with the garlic-breathed father?

The son's decline into drunkenness and prostitution thus represents a generational change that seems inevitable if Wang Lung's success continues. His sons will never develop the work ethic that he inherited from his ancestors (notice that even the ancestral gods have receded in this section, taken-for-granted rather than honored). They live more like the spoiled lords of the Great House.

In case you have any doubt where such lives of plenty ultimately lead, Buck is sure to house the village prostitute, Yang, inside the Old Lord's manor. The decadence that she represents has always dwelt at the heart of that manor; only now is it so obvious and so ugly. Wang Lung's son -- and Lotus, for that matter -- both manifest the ugliness that comes with such a cushy, degenerate lifestyle, only with the veneer of youth and beauty still covering them. Meanwhile, the son's association with his incorrigible cousin and uncle (who is revealed to be a Red Beard, thus proving the villainous nature that we've suspected from the start) and Lotus' association with Wang Lung's lazy aunt drive their parallels home even further.

Wang Lung continually escapes from these growing problems by engaging the earth. His victorious battle with the locusts resonates with many themes in the novel so far. We have seen human mobs; the locusts are an insect mob, just as rapacious and unthinking as their human counterpart. However, whereas the Great Houses capitulated wholly to the mob, Wang Lung is still crafty enough -- still connected enough with the land -- to fight off the locusts. His victory raises the question of whether his sons would have been able to save the fields, and the answer is obvious. They would have been lost, just as the lords were lost.

However, despite his successes in the fields, Wang Lung suffers the ultimate humiliation at home. His son is "talking to" -- and perhaps even sleeping with -- Lotus! The nightmare of a son replacing a father in his wife's affections is as old as the Oedipus myth, and has been explored in depth by Freud and his progeny. Needless to say, Lotus' preference for Wang Lung's son strikes to the rich man's heart. He feels his age and his common appearance all the stronger, and exiles his son in a rage.

Meanwhile, O-lan continues to suffer and recede. She is still a crucial figure in this section, quietly helping Wang Lung to see Lotus' betrayal, his son's need for a wife, and many other things, yet Wang Lung does not acknowledge her at all. He hasn't given her a thought, really, for years. She continues to suffer from "a fire in [her] vitals," which receives medical attention, even as she continues to work her chores every day without receiving help.

Wang Lung's neglect of O-lan reaches its high point perhaps when he beats her in the course of beating his son. He never apologizes for dealing collateral damage -- indeed, he hardly notices. In contrast, when he accidentally strikes Lotus in the course of beating and exiling his son at the end of the section, he expresses remorse. O-lan has become a specter in her own house -- in the house that she did so much to build. And, as she has been symbolically connected with the earth throughout the book, the reader can rest assured that Wang Lung's neglect of O-lan does not bode well at all.