In The Good Earth, after O-lan steals the jewels she wants to keep two of them. Why is Wang Lung so astonished by this?

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teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just before Wang Lung and his family leave the city, O-lan manages to steal a heap of jewels from the room of a mansion.  She hides them during the journey home, and only reveals them to her husband once they are safely back on their land.  Wang Lung wants the jewels to use as currency to buy more land from the Hwangs.  O-lan gives him the bulk of the jewels, but asks if she can keep a pair of pearl earrings.  Wang Lung is astonished by this for several reasons.  First, O-lan does not have pierced ears so she is unable to even wear the earrings.  Next, O-lan is a simple housewife and would never have occasion to wear the earrings even if she could.  Third, O-lan has never wanted any type of luxury in the past, so her desire for the earrings is much out of character.  Finally, Wang Lung has assumed that the land is the most important thing to O-lan also, so he cannot understand her wanting the pearls over having more land.  Because O-lan has never asked anything from Wang Lung, he agrees to let her keep the earrings.