In The Good Earth, how is Wang Lung characterized? 

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wang Lung is a dynamic character who goes through a dramatic change throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story, he is but a peasant farmer, lucky to have some land to cultivate. He is humble, somewhat shy, and mostly selfless. Because he is so poor, he cannot imagine desiring more for himself than what he needs. Even on his wedding day "He was ashamed to say aloud that he wished the house to look neat" (chapter 1). He takes care of his father, he works along side his wife (once a slave), and he is tied to his land.

As he grows in wealth and stature, he grows away from the land, which causes him to give himself over to his lusts, desires, and greed. He grows away from his own wife, who has born him several sons and worked hard to serve him and his family. He says to her one day, "Now anyone looking at you would say you were the wife of a common fellow and never of one who has land which he hires men to plow!" (Chapter 18). Land ownership and wealth change Wang Lung from a lowly and humble man, to one who begins to compare himself with other rich men. In his comparison, he begins to act and dress like one who has wealth.

But then, in his old age, he again returns to his roots and his ties to the land. He maintains the tradition of taking care of his own father until the day of the man's death, and then he honors his father in burial. Later, he also honors Ching, whom he hired and who became his confidant and hardest worker. It was not in fact expected nor really acceptable to place a laborer in a place of honor in a family burial plot, but he puts Ching as close as he respectable can to such a place. Then, he asks to be buried closest to Ching when he dies. Finally, he beseeches his sons in his last moments not to sell the land.

It is the end of a family--when they begin to sell the land...out of the land we came and into it we must one can rob you of your land (Chapter 34).

Wang Lung is a character who comes full circle, from poverty and humility, to wealth and stature (and the greed and pride that comes with it), back to the humility of age, and the realization that everything he had was from the land.