The Good Earth

People of Wang’s culture and class held definite attitudes toward women. How are these attitudes reflected in Wang’s relationship to O-lan?

what is wang lungs attitude towards o lan

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Wang Lung might be the protagonist of the novel, but of equal importance are the women of The Good Earth. Indeed, Buck depicts women as carefully negotiating the male-dominated world of the novel, achieving status and power when they can but never outrightly contradicting the misogyny expressed by the men in the book.

O-lan is, of course, the primary female figure in The Good Earth. At first she appears to be almost impossibly submissive and obedient to Wang Lung. She works incessantly, gives birth without complaint, remains constantly quiet and fills her household role. As the novel progresses, however, O-lan's rich history and inner life emerges. She is clever, resourceful and fiercely proud. There is no doubt that she is primarily responsible for the survival of her family during times of famine, and for her husband's accumulation of wealth and status. The central tragedy of the novel is Wang Lung's failure to recognize O-lan's crucial role in his life until she is on death's doorstep.

Other women in the novel, like Cuckoo and Lotus, gain power in a male-dominated society through different means. They know men better than men know themselves, and by using their beauty and delicacy -- as well as their wits -- they achieve comfortable financial positions. For both Cuckoo and Lotus, sex is a primary tool. Cuckoo uses her sexuality to bend the Old Lord to her will, whereas Wang Lung will do almost anything to please Lotus. They, like O-lan in many other things, are remarkably clear-sighted and unsentimental about this. Though they are pretty, it is not a pretty world, and a woman must use what she can to get where she can.

The exception to this unsentimental approach comes at the end of the novel, with Pear Blossom. She loves Wang Lung because he is an old, peaceful man. She fears and hates young men, whom she sees as violent and cruel. Indeed, Pear Blossom expresses a distaste for the patriarchal society depicted in the novel that will likely ring true with a modern reader. One wonders what will become of her guarded innocence after the death of her protector, Wang Lung.