The Good Earth

Describe Wang Lung and his family’s new living conditions.

"The Good Earth" Chapters 10-14

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Beginning in Chapter Ten, we come to see the extent of the hardship suffered by Wang Lung and his family. As Wang Lung and his family flee their village, Wang carries his father on his back. This image captures multiple meanings. On the one hand, it illustrates how Wang Lung must actually "carry" his family if it is going to survive. He and O-lan are their family's crutch, and if they fail, then the line will simply end. This image has a second, allegorical significance as well. In Virgil's epic, The Aeneid, Aeneus flees from Troy while it burns with his father on his back. Again, the image captures the way in which each succeeding generation must care for ancestry -- whether in the literal form of a father, or in symbolic terms of gods and traditions. Pearl Buck's willingness to deploy a very Western allusion from the foundational text of Rome in her tale of China displays her own ambidextrous approach to literature. She is a Western woman writing of the East, and she draws freely from both traditions.

Wang Lung, who has always been comfortable (if poor), finds himself cast into the south, a massively different region of China. He cannot speak the language and his family must live in the lowest social circle, begging for food. Wang Lung's refusal to beg illustrates his pride. He could make more money begging, it seems, then he could by pulling a rickshaw around. However, he looks down on begging as women-and-children work. O-lan, due to her tragic past, has no problem overcoming such claims to dignity. We learn that in a past famine year she was sold as a slave by her parents. Indeed, the diligence and wisdom that she has displayed throughout the novel seems explained above all by her past. She has survived the worst of life, and she will survive this too.