The Good Earth

The Good Earth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 29-31


Wang Lung's sons quickly complete their move to the House of Hwang. Wang Lung, however, finds it hard to leave his land. He declares that he'll move once he's found his second son a suitable wife but before his first grandson is born. Aside from Wang Lung, only his uncle, aunt and nephew continue to live at the country home. The uncle and aunt rapidly deteriorate under the strain of their opium addiction.

Ching finds a village maiden who seems suitable for Wang Lung's second son. Her father, a good man who is happy to become affiliated with Wang Lung through marriage, soon settles the deal. Wang Lung looks forward to marrying his third son and washing his hands of the whole matchmaking business.

Wang Lung, knowing his and Ching's age, rents some of his land to other farmers. His peace increases even further when his nephew announces a desire to join an army and head to war in the north. Wang Lung gladly provides the money his nephew asks for. Once the nephew leaves, Wang Lung moves into the House of Hwang. Proud of his new Great House and his growing family, Wang Lung furnishes the place lushly. Also, he begins to eat delicate foods and affect the manner of rich men. Cuckoo compares him to the Old Lord and this pleases him.

The time comes for his eldest son's wife to give birth. She requires much ado and emits loud screams of pain. Wang Lung visits his family gods for the first time in many years and prays for a healthy grandson. His prayer is apparently granted, as the child is a boy. Wang Lung is happy, but he remember how differently O-lan behaved during labor. There was no commotion and O-lan was soon back to work following the birth. His eldest son's wife won't even nurse her own child, as that is unbecoming for a wealthy woman. With the coming of the third generation, the eldest son suggests that they commission a tablet of ancestry, such as the great families have, and Wang Lung happily agrees.

Happiness is short lived though, as Wang Lung receives word that Ching's has been gravely injured. Wang Lung rushes to his fields and leans that Ching hurt himself demonstrating an arduous task for a young worker. Wang Lung beats the incompetant laborer in his grief. He then promises Ching an expensive coffin just before Ching dies. Wang Lung weeps more copiously than he did for his own father. He buries him almost as family and asks to be buried closest to Ching when he dies. He then takes his youngest son to the Great House, since Ching can no longer apprentice him in the ways of the earth.

Wang Lung's eldest son then approaches his father and asks to rent the outer rooms of the House of Hwang as well, as it isn't fitting that they live among the poor people who dwell there. Wang Lung reluctantly agrees and the poor are evicted. These commoners know that the elder son has forced them out, and they vow to "come back even as the poor do come back when the rich are too rich" (308). His son eagerly makes the arrangements to renovate the House as he sees fit. Wang Lung, once called "Wang the Farmer," becomes known as "Wang The Big Man" or "Wang The Rich Man." Soon Wang Lung's the second son shares his anxiety that so much money is going to waste in the house. He sees the expenses as following from his elder brother's pride, so Wang Lung cuts off the funds.

The eldest son comes to speak on his youngest brother's behalf, saying that the youth would rather be educated than work in the fields. This surprises Wang Lung, who had assumed that his youngest would dedicate himself to the land. Wang Lung speaks to his youngest son, a quiet, beautiful lad with a serious disposition. He confirms that the son does not wish to work the land and he orders him to go away. Wang Lung feels used and betrayed by his sons. None of them will dedicate themselves to that which has given them all they have: the earth. He muses that daughters are better than sons because they leave with marriage, and of course his poor fool asks for nothing but a piece of cloth to entertain herself with. In the end Wang Lung lets his sons have their way and the youngest son begins receiving tutelage.

Wang Lung's second son plans his wedding, frugally noting the expenses and guest list. His thrift greatly angers his elder brother, and the contrast between his frugality and his brother's excess grows stark. Nevertheless, the days are filled with happiness for Wang Lung as he enjoys his grandchildren. Soon his second son has a child as well and the third generation populates the Great House.

Wang Lung's uncle's falls ill, so Wang Lung buys a coffin for him and for his wife. His aunt extracts a promise from Wang Lung that if she were to die before her son returns from war he would find his nephew a wife. Wang Lung agrees. Soon after his uncle dies. The family mourns and the uncle's wife moves into the town house. There she will wait out the rest if her days.

In Chapter 31, war enters the area. Wang Lung has never experienced war before. Soon soldiers are everywhere and Wang Lung's nephew is among them. The nephew forces Wang Lung to house soldiers. Wang Lung and his sons hide the women and children in the innermost courts of the House, but they cannot prevent the nephew from entering these rooms and lusting after the women. The eldest brother's wife squirms under his gaze, but the second brother's wife meets his stare and laughs. The nephew comments on Lotus' great size and says that she looks like a rich man's wife. The nephew briefly sees his mother, who wastes in an opium daze, and refuses to smoke with her.

Cuckoo suggests that they could control the nephew by giving him a slave. The nephew requests Pear Blossom, the small delicate slave girl that serves Lotus. Pear Blossom resists but Lotus demands that she submit. Wang Lung, however, pities the girl and instead gives his nephew another slave, a stout woman of about twenty years old who volunteers for the job. Soon after, the soldiers receive orders and leave. By this time, the nephew's slave is pregnant.


Wang Lung's separation from the land clearly marks the close of that chapter of his life. He transitions gradually but inexorably from a farmer to a rich man, and spends less and less time in the fields even as he yearns for them. Wang Lung again manages ambivalence about his two halves -- he appreciates his eldest son's fine taste and expensive plans even as he appreciates his second son's business head. Moreover, he despairs that none of his sons will take over the farming, though that is the source of their wealth and comfort. Wang Lung, a good man despite his flaws, will at least think about the land, while his sons likely will not. This bodes ill, which we know well when the commoners whom Wang Lung's eldest son evicts promise to return some day.

The death of Ching seals the separation with the land. He was Wang Lung's last link to the daily activity of the fields. Now he is completely disconnected, even taking his youngest son with him to town. Thus, Wang Lung leaves the land and those buried in it, his father, O-lan and Ching, as markers of his past life. He is no longer "Wang Lung the Farmer," but rather "Wang Lung the Rich Man."

The birth of Wang Lung's grandson also clearly marks the shift from country to town life. The cries of the mother fill the Great House, whereas O-lan always bore her labor in silence. Wang Lung endures her commotion silently, remarking on O-lan's fortitude. He seems very willing to take the bad things of town life -- the loss of strength and connection to the earth -- along with the good -- the increase in status and honor. His grandson's will never know the poverty and want that his sons have known. They will grow up spoiled in the Great House and will likely never touch a plow. Still, Wang Lung is happy at the sight of them, as they prove his success.

The death of the uncle also marks the end of an era. The uncle has always stood for the unproductive traits in Wang Lung's blood -- the excess, the impulse to debauchery. He was a villainous man but still he is mourned, as an elder should be. Unfortunately for Wang Lung, his uncle's presence does not end with his death. His son continues the tradition of mooching and immorality with aplomb, and leaves behind a child for others to raise. Whereas Wang Lung (and hopefully his sons) tend their crops, whether in the form of wheat or children, Wang Lung's uncle's line leaves their crops to be tended by others. They are, as noted before, unmitigated parasites.

Following O-lan's death, it seems that the sharply individualized woman has left the book. Women are seen in this section almost solely from the point-of-view of the men. This is clearest when Wang Lung's nephew hastily passes judgement on the eldest son's town wife and the second son's country wife. These two seem to represent opposite, obvious types of women -- the gentle, shy town woman and the loud, brazen country woman. They lack the subtlety of O-lan's or even Cuckoo's character.

The section further emphasizes womens' status as belongings when Wang Lung grants his nephew a slave. Cuckoo and Lotus both prove pragmatic when they urge a slave on the nephew, who is otherwise capable of threatening any woman in the house. Both of these women know men's urges better then men themselves, and are well-versed in the compromises necessary to keep male violence in check. In order to protect women as a whole, slave women must satisfy the lust of lechers like the nephew, and slave women themselves (like Cuckoo, Lotus and the woman who volunteers to be the nephew's concubine) know this. Meanwhile, certain fragile, feminine characters like Pear Blossom have the innocense crushed out of them. The ever-sympathetic Wang Lung saves Pear Blossom from the nasty fate of being the nephew's slave, but without a benevolent patriarch she would have to submit. This is yet another hint of how difficult life will likely become following Wang Lung's death.