Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Wang Lung’s father chooses for his son’s bride a slave girl from the house of Hwang, a girl who will keep the house clean, prepare the food, and not waste her time thinking about clothes. In the morning, Wang Lung leads her out through the gate of the big house, and they stop at a temple and burn incense. That is their marriage. O-lan is a good wife. She thriftily gathers twigs and wood so they will not have to buy fuel. She mends Wang Lung’s and his father’s winter clothes and scours the house. She works in the fields beside her husband, even on the day she bears their first son.
The harvest is a good one that year. Wang Lung has a handful of silver dollars from the sale of his wheat and rice. He and O-lan buy new coats for themselves and new clothes for the baby. Together with their child, they go to pay their respects to the Hwangs, where O-lan had once been a slave. With some of the silver dollars, Wang Lung buys a small field of rich land from the Hwangs.
The second child is born a year later, and again it is a year of good harvest. Wang Lung’s third baby is a girl. On the day of her birth, crows fly about the house, mocking Wang Lung with their cries. The farmer does not rejoice when his little daughter is born, for poor farmers rear their daughters only to serve the rich. The crows are an evil omen, for the child is born feebleminded.
That summer is dry, and for months no rain falls. The harvest is poor. After the...
(The entire section is 1120 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Good Earth is Buck’s masterpiece. Even though she wrote more than eighty books after its 1931 publication, it is her best-remembered work. Made up of thirty-four chapters dividing the story into two distinct parts, it tells of four generations of a Chinese family as it grows from poverty to prosperity. The narrative begins when young peasant farmer Wang Lung meets his bride, a slave girl named O-Lan, on the day of their arranged marriage. It ends when Wang Lung is an old man, a father and grandfather, placidly awaiting the end of his days.
The novel, a roman-fleuve, tells the saga of Wang Lung’s family and its changes over the years. It is also an in-depth character study of Wang Lung, revealing the many sides of his personality. When first seen, he is a timid, humble young man on his wedding day with several admirable qualities: He is hard-working, unquestioningly doing the backbreaking work necessary to make his farm productive. He is respectful of his old father and to the gods he believes hold power over his farm’s productivity. He may not love his wife, whom he meets for the first time on their wedding day, but he is as considerate of her as a good husband is expected to be and rarely has a harsh word for her. He even shows appreciation for her uncomplaining labor beside him in the fields, for her presenting him with three sons, and for her subservient kindness to his old father.
Though Wang Lung is illiterate, he is...
(The entire section is 1233 words.)
As The Good Earth begins, Wang Lung, a poor farmer in north central China, is preparing to get married. He is looking forward to having a woman to do the household chores since his mother died six years earlier. He lives with his father, an old man who complains a lot.
Early in the morning, Wang Lung puts on his best clothes and walks into the town. He is on his way to the House of Hwang, the wealthiest family in town, where he has been promised a slave girl as a wife. The marriage has been arranged by his father, and he has never met the girl, although he knows she is not pretty.
Arriving in town, he visits the barber and then the butcher, where he buys meat for the evening wedding feast. Outside the House of Hwang, he is at first too frightened to go in, and he goes to a restaurant and buys noodles and tea. When he returns to the House of Hwang at noon, he is taken to the Old Mistress, who summons the female slave, named O-lan. The old mistress says O-lan is a virgin and a good worker, although somewhat slow and stupid. Wang Lung is pleased to have her, and on their way home, he takes her to a temple, where he burns incense to the gods. When they arrive home, O-lan prepares the food, and Wang Lung’s neighbors and relatives arrive for the feast.
As the days go by, Wang Lung begins to enjoy married life. O-lan, although she is mostly silent, is a good cook and a competent housekeeper....
(The entire section is 3031 words.)