The Good Earth

The Good Earth Summary and Analysis of Chapter 14


With the coming of spring, the poor of the city grow somewhat more comfortable. The men begin to talk to each other at night and Wang Lung learns of their hardships. However, he does not feel that he is one of them, for these men have nothing beyond themselves, but for Wang Lung there is always the land: "Most of these ragged men had nothing beyond what they took in the day's labor and begging, and he was always conscious that he was not truly one of them. He owned land and his land was waiting for him" (121).

The talk of the rich and extravagant lifestyle of those in the Great Houses astounds Wang Lung. He thinks of all the land he would buy if he had even a handful of their jewels. The men laugh at Wang Lung when he says this, however, for they would never work if they were rich, whereas Wang Lung conceives of life in terms of working his fields.

Revolutionary propaganda circulates among the poor men of the city. Wang Lung, who cannot read, takes the flyers nonetheless so that O-lan can use them as stuffing for their shoes. The Americans distribute some flyers as well that feature images of Jesus -- first depicted as Western, then later as Chinese. Wang Lung hears a young man speak of rising up against exploitation of the poor. Wang Lung thinks that this talk does not explain everything, for though he knows that the rich control money he knows that they cannot control the weather, which affects his money as much as the rich do.

The next day while pulling his rickshaw, Wang Lung witnesses several poor men being forced to slave for the army. Wang Lung fears that he will be pressed into service too, and decides to work at the docks at night rather than out in the daylight. The job at the dock pays less than the rickshaw, but at least he is safe. He is once again tempted to sell his daughter, but O-lan tells him to wait a little longer, there is talk that something might happen soon. Wang Lung asks O-lan how life was for her in the Great House, and she says that she was beaten every day. Even the pretty slaves at the Great House were beaten or passed among the lords and then the man servants.

One night the family hears a great clamoring, a sound "like the cracking of heaven" (133). The mob has broken into the Great House. O-lan disappears and Wang Lung gets swallowed by the mob. He finds himself within the innermost chambers of the house. Here he finds a wealthy, fat, half-dressed man hiding. The man begs Wang Lung for his life in exchange for money. Wang Lung takes the money and then demands more. One thought rings through his head: "We go back to the land -- tomorrow we go back to the land!" (137)


This chapter marks the beginning of the revolution that will change China irrevocably. At the same time, it also charts Wang Lung's place in the city society. Though he is destitute, Wang Lung feels superior to his fellow poor. His identity is, quite literally, born out of the soil, and he feels that because he owns land he has a future that the other poor men cannot expect. At the same time, his love for the land exceeds his love for his daughter; he just about ready to sell her at this point, regardless of the truths O-lan has told him about life in the Great Houses and the abuse she endured there.

The power of the mob versus the individual is very marked here also. It is the collective force of the people that makes it possible for the great divide between rich and poor to come down. The large gathering of discontented people seems to infect individuals, changing them for the worse. Just as at Wang Lung's farm, when his uncle incited a mob against him, people act out of greed and passion within the chaos of mass-consciousness. The mob also makes its way into Wang Lung. When he is confronted with the rich man willing to exchange his life for gold Wang Lung is like another man: he speaks with a harshness he never knew he had, he who had been unable to kill an ox to feed his starving family. Even such a meek sentimentalist as he is affected.

We are also left to wonder: what happened to O-lan? All that we know is that when the chaos began O-lan disappeared. What she does during this time will become crucial to her role in the novel.