Wang Lung, an ambitious farmer who sees in the land the only sure source of livelihood. At the end of his life, however, his third son has left the land to be a soldier, and his first and second sons callously plan to sell the land and go to the city as soon as Wang dies.
O-Lan, a slave bought by Wang’s father to marry Wang. She works hard in their small field with Wang; during the civil war, she loots in order to get money to buy more land. She dies in middle age of a stomach illness.
Nung En, their oldest son, who, when he covets his father’s concubine, Lotus Blossom, is married to the grain merchant Liu’s daughter.
Nung Wen, their second son, apprenticed to Liu.
The Fool, their retarded daughter.
Liu, a grain merchant in the town.
The Uncle, who brings his wife and shiftless son to live on Wang’s farm. Secretly a lieutenant of a robber band, he also brings protection.
Lotus Blossom, Wang Lung’s concubine, who is refused entrance into the house by O-Lan.
Ching, a neighbor hired by Wang Lung as overseer.
Pear Blossom, a pretty slave taken by Wang after the death of his wife.
Ching is a farmer and neighbor of Wang Lung. He is a small and quiet man with a face “like an ape’s.” Honest and decent, Ching is ashamed of the fact that during the famine he joined with the mob that went to Wang Lung’s house to steal. He took a handful of Wang Lung’s beans, but only because his child was starving. A short while later, Ching gives Wang Lung some dried red beans to atone for his actions. During the famine, Ching’s wife dies, and he is forced to sell his daughter to a soldier to save her life. When Wang Lung returns from the city, he helps Ching. He later buys Ching’s land and employs Ching to help him manage all his land. Ching becomes a loyal employee, and there is mutual respect between the two men. When Ching dies, Wang Lung grieves for him even more than he did for his father.
Cuckoo is a sharp-voiced, shrewd woman who for much of her life is a slave at the House of Hwang. But after the old mistress dies and the house is sacked by bandits, she becomes the mistress of the Old Master and manages his affairs. She also acts as intermediary for Wang Lung to meet Lotus. When Lotus moves to Wang Lung’s house, Cuckoo attends her as a servant. This arrangement causes friction in the house because O-lan dislikes Cuckoo and will not speak to her. As the years go by, Cuckoo and Lotus develop a more equal relationship and become friends. Cuckoo is very skilled at looking after Lotus’s interests.
Old Master Hwang
Old Master Hwang, the patriarch of the Hwang family, allows his family to decline into poverty and ruin. He insists on taking in new concubines every year, even when he cannot afford to do so, and he seems to exert little control over his sons.
Old Mistress Hwang
Old Mistress Hwang is the matriarch of the Hwang family. When Wang Lung goes to her house to fetch his bride, Old Mistress is rather stern and haughty. She is addicted to opium. When the family fortunes go into decline, Old Mistress sells much of the family land. She dies of shock when bandits raid the house and tie her to a chair and gag her.
Liu is a wealthy, good-hearted grain dealer with whom Wang Lung does business. The two men also arrange for their families to be linked through marriage. Liu’s daughter marries Wang Lung’s eldest son, and Wang Lung’s second daughter is promised to Liu’s second son. Also, Wang Lung’s second son is apprenticed to Liu.
Lotus is a courtesan who entertains men on the upper floor of the tea shop that Wang Lung frequents. She is slender and alluring, with tiny hands and feet. When he first meets Lotus, Wang Lung is captivated by her charm and falls under her spell. He does...
(The entire section contains 2703 words.)
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