After Wang Lung has brought his concubine Lotus home, he says to himself that "peace (is) in his house". The moment of perceived calm is soon disrupted, however, when his oldest son, petulant and spoiled, expresses his desire to go to the city to "enter a great school where (he) can learn what is to be learned". When Wang Lung refuses, his son reacts angrily; Wang Lung responds with more ire, telling his son to go to the fields "and work a little for the rice (he) eat(s)". For many days, nothing more is said, then suddenly and inexplicably, the boy seems content at home again.
A little while later, O-lan, Wang Lung's first wife, comes to tell him that his eldest son "goes too often into the inner courts", where Lotus resides. Her implication is that the son is cuckolding his father, fraternizing with his concubine while his back is turned. Wang Lung at first does not believe O-lan, but suspicion gets the best of him and he lies in wait by Lotus' quarters. Sure enough, Wang Lung's son comes and he and Lotus are flirting. Wang Lung leaps upon his son and beats him "until the blood stream(s) down", and when he is spent, he whispers threateningly to the youth,
"Now get you to your room and do not dare to come out of it until I am rid of you, lest I kill you!" (Chapter 24).
The events surrounding this incident are significant in a number of ways. Wang Lung, preoccupied as he is with superficial things, has neglected what is important, and so there is no peace in his house. Lotus' beauty has attracted him, and he has possessed her, but she betrays him; in his constant focus on gaining riches and refusing to spend foolishly so that he can accumulate all the more, he has failed to nurture a close relationship with his son. Wang Lung's wife, O-lan, is the one constant in his life, but he overlooks her because she is not beautiful. As exemplified by the violent altercation with his son, Wang Lung's household is in shambles because his priorities are not sound.