The Good Earth

The Good Earth Summary and Analysis of Chapter 1


The chapter opens on Wang Lung's marriage day. It is a moment of great change in the house, previously inhabited only by Wang Lung and his elderly father. Today, a woman will arrive and take over many of the chores that Wang Lung has been performing daily since his mother passed away six years ago.

In preparation for the big day, Wang Lung gives his father water with tea leaves in the morning, an action that the old man sees as wasteful since tea leaves are like gold for humble farmers like them. Wang Lung also takes a full-bodied bath, another luxury, since water is very valuable to them. Nevertheless, he justifies this waste by later throwing the water over the earth and their crops.

Wang Lung has invited family and friends tonight for his marriage dinner. He thus goes to town to buy meat and produce. He counts every silver piece and pence. He then decides to have his head freshly shaven for tonight.

The time comes for him to request his bride at the Great House of Hwang. He is terribly anxious, however, and decides to eat something before going forth. When he arrives at the gate of the Great House he is greeted by the gateman, a very unpleasant man that requires Wang Lung to give him a piece of silver before he is shown into the house.

Wang Lung is taken to see the Old Mistress, a very intimidating figure. The Mistress speaks of O-lan, his soon to be wife. She is described as plain but hard-working, presumably also a virgin, though in Great Houses the masters often had their way with the slaves. Regardless, O-lan's lack of beauty has prevented the masters from taking any interest in her. She is also described as slow. The Old Mistress states her desire to see their firstborn and then swiftly hands O-lan over to Wang Lung. In a moment she passes from one master to another, no questions asked.

Wang Lung notices with disappointment that his wife's feet are not bound and that her face is indeed as plain as was rumored. However, she has no pockmarks or a split lip, as he had requested, and he finds comfort in this reassurance. On their way home, O-lan walks behind Wang Lung, as tradition dictates. He buys her green peaches on the way. They then stop by the temple and burn incense for the gods.

When they arrive at home O-lan is soon put to work in the kitchen. She prepares a delicious meal, but does not want to serve the food because she does not wish that other men look upon her.

That night, Wang Lung and O-lan consummate their marriage.


In this first chapter we are introduced to the farmer Wang Lung, the protagonist of the book. Wang Lung is a simple man; however, he has a desire for some of the finer things in life, for example, a pretty wife. He is anxious about meeting his new wife, and is very conscious of his appearance. For this reason he bathes his full body, wears his best robe, and has his head freshly shaven for the occasion.

Wang Lung's father notices all of his son's preparations and admonishes him on his apparent waste. However, he is also secretly pleased at the event that is taking place, and he enjoys drinking his tea, as well as the thought of having guests for dinner.

Many of the themes that will be developed by the author throughout the text are presented in this chapter, beginning with the importance of the earth. Obviously, a farmer's life and livelihood depends upon cultivating his land, but the earth takes on a greater significance as well with regard to traditions. Wang Lung works his fields in long-established ways; farming is thus a sort of through-line for Wang Lung to his most distant ancestors. Buck even mentions a connection between farming one's land and worshipping household gods. The implication is that one's traditions and spiritual guides affect one's success as a farmer along with meteorological factors.

Wang Lung's journey to the town establishes the differences between the conservatism of country life and the changing fashions and methods of the city. This contrast becomes evident in his encounter with the Barber, a joker who pokes fun at Wang Lung's braid. All farmers once wore braids, and Wang Lung is unwilling to cut his off simply because a Barber teases him about it. Times are changing, but Wang Lung still apparently values tradition above all else.

Going to the House of Hwang is especially nerve-wracking for Wang Lung. He is awkwardly ignorant of the customs of the house, is intimidated by the pomp and finery on display there, and is especially embarrassed that he has carted his market-bought food to the great House. Once inside, however, he is fixated on his new wife. He has never seen her before. It should be noted at this point that Wang Lung always refers to O-lan as his woman. She is, above all, a possession for Wang Lung, someone to take over the chores of the household and to bear him children.

On their way home, Wang Lung buys O-lan green peaches, possessions she eagerly guards and which attest to the scarcity she is coming from. O-lan is submissive and obedient from the very moment she steps into Wang Lung's house. The green peaches might represent the newness of their relationship -- not yet ripe. At any rate, the peaches suggest sensuality, and prefigure the consumation of their marriage at the chapter's end.