The Good Earth

The Good Earth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 32-34


Wang Lung and his sons agree to eliminate all evidence that the soldiers were ever stationed at their house. Meanwhile, Wang Lung's nephew's slave gives birth to a girl. Wang Lung treats the slave and her child respectfully, assigning her to care for his aunt until her death. He gives the slave a private room and even some silver, but the slave requests that the silver be used as a dowry; she desires a trustworthy poor man as a husband and Wang Lung agrees to marry her off after his aunt dies. This promise recalls O-lan, for he was once such a man as this servant now seeks.

Wang Lung's aunt soon dies, and Wang Lung summons the country fellow whom he beat for Ching's death. The man happily accepts the nephew's slave as his wife. When the man arrives to claim his bride, Wang Lung sits on the raised dias, just as the Old Mistress sat so many years before when Wang Lung came for O-lan. At this Wang Lung feels that his life "was rounded off and he had done all that he said he would do in this life and more than he could ever have dreamed he could, and he did not know himself how it had all come about" (332). Wang Lung is now sixty-five years old.

However, household peace continues to elude Wang Lung. The wives of his sons harbor a deep hatred for each other, and this strains the brothers' already tense relationship. Further, ever since Wang Lung spared Pear Blossom from her fate Lotus has been jealous of the girl. At first the tought of desiring Pear Blossom strikes Wang Lung as ludicrous, but the suggestion catches his fancy and he begins to notice how pretty Pear Blossom has become.

Wang Lung's youngest son, having become enamored of the army during the soldiers' stay, announces that he wishes to become a soldier. He wants to be a part of the revolution that is coming and that will free the land. Wang Lung resists, saying there is no need to free the land -- it's already free, as his rise to power proves. The son insists and Wang Lung is at a loss. He suggests that the boy be married instead, which angers his son.

Wang Lung then asks whether he desires a household slave and the son replies that Pear Blossom is the only desirable slave. Wang Lung grows jealous at this and says that no such conduct will take place in his house. Trying to clear his head, Wang Lung feels the draw of the earth. He is ashamed to return to the fields, as he is now a rich man and not a farmer. He reasons that his youngest son is fitting for Pear Blossom, as they are similar in age, but cannot shake off his desire for the girl.

That night Wang Lung calls Pear Blossom to him. She throws herself at Wang Lung's feet upon entering his presence. Although Wang Lung tells her that he is but an old man and that she deserves someone her age, Pear Blossom insists that she prefers an old man, as the young are violent. Thus she becomes Wang Lung's concubine. His relationship with her, built more around companionship than sex, is very comfortable.

Wang Lung's relationship with Pear Blossom becomes known. Cuckoo remarks that Wang Lung is very much like the Old Lord. Lotus is not happy with the news, but relaxes when Wang Lung buys her jewels to atone for his wandering. His sons are incredulous -- the eldest is even a little jealous, as his own wife is controlling. But his youngest son has the strongest reaction, storming out of the house never to return.

In the final chapter of the novel, Wang Lung finally finds peace in the company of Pear Blossom and his poor fool. He trusts Pear Blossom deeply, and asks her to kill his poor fool when he is dead, for he knows that no one in the house will care for her. Pear Blossom replies that she will care for the girl as a reward for the great kindness that Wang Lung has always shown her. Pear Blossom says that she hates all men except for Wang Lung, even her father, and that all young men are evil.

Lotus and Cuckoo spend much time together as good friends, and Cuckoo is established as Wang Lung's primary line of information about the happenings of the house. His elder sons prosper, becomming important business figures and giving him nineteen grandchildren or more. His youngest son becomes a military official for the revolution, though Wang Lung remains oblivious to any such changes, and his eldest takes a concubine.

During the spring Wang Lung returns to his land. He occasionally sleeps in his old house and visits the family graves. Wang Lung asks his sons to buy him a coffin, then moves into the old earthen house with Pear Blossom and his eldest daughter, leaving "the house in town to the family he had founded" (355). Back in the earthen home, Wang Lung lives the simple life that his aged father had lived, concentrating on food, drink and earth, nothing more. His sons come often to visit him, but they are busy living their own lives.

One day Wang Lung overhears his sons speaking of selling the land to the new railroad that is set to come into town. Wang Lung angrily declares, "Out of the land we came and into it we must go -- and if you will hold your land you can live -- no one can rob you of land" (357). The sons soothe the old man with promises that they'll never sell the land. However, "over the old man's head they looked at the other and smiled" (357).


The final chapters show Wang Lung growing apart from the rich family he has founded. Even as he seeks peace and comfort, his sons grow business-like and feud with one another. Their lives of luxary and increase are not for Wang Lung, nor is Wang Lung's preferred simplicity for them.

The crowning gesture of Wang Lung's life, the symbol of his rise in status, comes when he gives a wife to a poor farmer. Indeed his life has come full circle, and the fact that he chooses to sit exactly where the Old Mistress sat when she spoke to him attests to his awareness of the the neat arch of his life. This is a moment of deep reflection for Wang Lung; he has accomplished more than he could have dreamed.

The moment also suggests how dependant Wang Lung's success has always been on women. He even sits where the Old Mistress sat -- the first woman who ever gave him anything. Of course, she gave him O-lan, and O-lan gave him his start as a wealthy man. In nearly everything, Wang Lung has followed the advice of women, for better and worse both. He allowed Cuckoo to intoxicate him with the promise of Lotus; he gleaned the suggestion to buy Lotus from his aunt; he allowed Lotus to change him from a farmer to a luxuriant city type.

Even at the end of his life, Wang Lung is still victim to women's power of suggestion, which is plainly evident when Lotus' jealousy of Pear Blossom inspires Wang Lung to begin loving the young girl. Wang Lung has done little on his own but work hard; he has always followed women for inspiration, though he has conceived of himself as their master and superior.

When Wang Lung takes Pear Blossom as his concubine he greatly resembles an Old Lord. The move surprises everyone but no one resists, for it is his house above anyone else's. Nevertheless, this shows that Wang Lung's family has accepted the hierarchical way of life that marked the House of Hwang. Wang Lung's youngest son's reaction is especially strong, as he sees Wang Lung's actions as decadent and unnatural. Indeed, in his son's eyes, Wang Lung evinces the need for a revolution to end the old ways.

However, the interpretations that rule in the House of Hwang -- that Wang Lung is turning into the Old Lord or showing the need to revolt -- aren't very astute. Wang Lung's relationship with Pear Blossom is more complicated than either reading can account for. He is the girl's protector, the only man she doesn't loathe. And she submits to him happily, not out of obedience to hierarchy. Both Pear Blossom and Wang Lung are more antithetical to the society in the House of Hwang than they are representative of it. Pear Blossom despises the commodification of women that reigns there (she is thus the clearest mouthpiece for a modern reader's likely aversion to such practices), and Wang Lung yearns for a connection to the land that his sons and grandsons will never know. Together they are able to escape the strictures of the Great House along with Wang Lung's eldest daughter, whom no one else would care for.

Wang Lung is truly the last of his kind -- and perhaps the only of his kind. His rise to power depends on a specific historical moment in Chinese history, a moment in which a farmer can gain the status and wealth of an Old Lord while still retaining a connection to the earth. Before Wang Lung, farmers were not able to rise to such heights. After Wang Lung, his sons will deal in a more abstract commercial sphere, and will likely suffer for it. They pay mouth-service to the earth at the end of Wang Lung's life, but smile at each other above the old man's head, knowing that they will embrace the railroad and the modern economy to come. Wang Lung's final warning rings true, however. No matter how harried his life became (and Wang Lung's life has been very hard, ranging from starvation to mob violence to war), the land has been a constant provider. Even if it has failed from time to time, its bounty always returned. Can the same be said for the business ventures of his sons?

The earth will always be the earth. It will always have value as long as people live to work it. The things of the world, however, are fleeting.