What do we learn about Wang Lung as we see him making preparations for his wedding day in the beginning of The Good Earth?
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Wang Lung and his father are poor wheat farmers who live together in a brick house with a thatched roof and three bedrooms in a rural area of China. Wang Lung's mother died six years ago, and ever since he has made hot tea for his father every morning to ease his father’s coughing. Today is his wedding day, and today would be the last day he would do this because his wife would be responsible for that task after today.
He is very respectful of his father and of tradition. He has a long braid down his back, and a shaved head. The barber tells him that the latest fashion is to cut off the braid, but Wang Lung says that he could not do that without his father’s permission. His father chose the girl he was to marry. Because they are poor, all his father can arrange for him is a slave girl from a wealthy household, the House of Hwang. He knows nothing of the girl he is to marry except that she has a clear complexion and doesn’t have a split lip. He and his father bring two silver rings washed in gold and a pair of silver earrings for the girl to secure the betrothal. Wang Lung likes to be clean, but he had only bathed his full body once since the New Year. Today he bathes because he wants to make an impression on this “lady”.
Wang Lung goes by himself to collect his "lady". Wang Lung had never been in a great house, and it intimidates him. When he meets his lady, he is disappointed with her large feet. In those days, parents would bind the feet of a girl child so that her feet wouldn’t grow. Small feet were considered beautiful and a sign of femininity. This custom eventually caused many problems for the women and many deformities and disabilities in their feet.
Wang Lung is a Buddhist. However, he is poor, yet he maintains the basic marriage traditions of the Buddhists. Usually Buddhists arrive at the temple with six or nine trays of fruit. Wang Lung buys O-Lan six peaches. The bride and groom light two candles which symbolize the union of the two families. Wang Lung lights two sticks of incense at the temple of the earth god. He lit the incense sticks, but she pushed away the ash as it burnt.
“It was as if the incense belonged to them both; it was a moment of marriage.” (pg 16)
He is social and has invited guests in for dinner that night to celebrate his marriage. Again, according to tradition, he only invited men. His new “lady” was to prepare the wedding feast. Fortunately for him, she had worked in the kitchen in the rich man’s house. Even though he was proud of the food prepared by his lady, he spoke of how badly she had prepared it and what poor quality it was, so that he would not appear boastful or full of pride.
She did not eat with the men. In fact, she had Wang Lung deliver the food to the table because,
“I do not like to come out before men”(pg 17)
He is proud of her decision and when the men at the table ask to meet his new bride, he replies “firmly”
“We are not yet one. It is not right that other men see her until the marriage is consummated.” (Pg 17)
He consummates the marriage that night.
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