Study Guide

The Good Earth Analysis

  • Tone

    Solemn, Detached

    It doesn't matter what's happening, the tone in this novel is always the same. Things are described matter-of-factly, without emotion, as if a robot with awesome literary skills were watching these events and reporting them back to us.

    Here's the happy tone: “She smoothed a last furrow slowly. Then in her usual plain way she said, straight out, her voice flat and more than usually plain in the silent evening air, ‘I am with child'" (2.21). Now here's the sad tone: “But Ching's ear were filled with his blood, and if he heard Wang Lung he made no sign, but he only lay there panting and dying and so he died" (29.74). Can you tell the difference? We didn't think so.

    This tone helps give the novel the sense of being a documentary. Documentaries don't have fancy camera angles or dramatic music. Happy or sad, they always have the same neutral tone. And since Buck wants to give us the feeling of being a fly on the wall in Wang Lung's house, it's the perfect tone to use. It also enhances the novel's impression of realism. If everything is reported in a neutral way, it doesn't seem like Buck is making judgments or manipulating our emotions too much.

  • Genre

    Parable, Historical Fiction, Realism

    Historical Fiction

    Buck's novel is just coincidentally historical fiction. In most historical fiction, history plays a big role in the plot and in the characters' lives, but in The Good Earth, history is mostly background decoration. The story could happen anywhere, at any time.

    Think about it. Would Wang Lung’s story be out of place in the farmlands of the USA? Or how about Venezuela? France? No matter where he lived, or what he was named, Wang Lung’s life would still be connected to the land. We’re also pretty sure there are lots of stubborn, ambitious, hardheaded guys all over the world.

    Still, the novel does try to make you feel like you are in the Chinese countryside at the turn of the 20th century, just like most historical fiction tries to make you feel you are experiencing a specific historical epoch. It's a story set in a particular place and time featuring characters and themes that could exist in any place or time. Think about it as sort of like Downton Abbey but set in early 20th century China instead of prewar England.


    Part of what made Buck's novel so famous was her use of realism. She writes about the real, everyday life of normal people in China. Until then, most literature in America about China was romanticized, unrealistic, or about extraordinary people.

    Buck drew from her experience of growing up in China to provide realistic details about the country that most Western authors couldn't know about. She also created a story about a farmer who is so universal that he could exist anywhere, not just in China. Audiences were drawn to reading The Good Earth because they could feel like they were getting "the real deal."


    The moral of this story is pretty obvious. It's not complicated, and it's not some fancy literary fiction theorizing. Nope, we can boil it down to three words: remember your roots. If you want to get fancy, you can add a second moral: loyalty trumps beauty. Still, it's only six words in total.

    Even though The Good Earth is a very long book, it has a lot in common with the parable, a short story with a clear moral. Buck, of course, takes makes the parable a lot more complicated: for example, even though her message is simple, she elevates the genre of parable by creating characters who are complex and who have complicated relationships. Instead of being stock characters, Wang Lung and O-lan actually surprise us sometimes.

    Buck uses style of the parable because of its similarity to traditional Chinese storytelling. In the West, most people are exposed to parables through Bible stories like "The Good Samaritan" and "The Prodigal Son," but in pre-revolutionary China, parables were used to educate and teach people about morals. Especially as a kid growing up in China, Buck probably heard lots of Chinese parables before bed time, so using this genre helps her evoke the feeling of being in China.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    We feel like a broken record. The land, the land, the land. Maybe we should try a different word. Dirt, maybe? Soil? How about terra?

    The novel is titled The Good Earth because the earth is good. Yep. Pretty simple.

    Everything in Wang Lung's life comes from the earth: the farmhouse, the oven, even the little earth gods. When Wang Lung gets rich, it's no coincidence that its jewels and not coins that make him rich. Where do jewels come from? That's right: the earth. So we can definitely say that the earth has been "good" to Wang Lung.

    Near the end of the novel, Wang Lung starts thinking that the earth is evil and only wants to cause suffering. But all the suffering in the novel actually comes when Wang Lung is separated from the earth—and from the two other people closest to it, O-lan and Ching. That's the cause of the whole Lotus fiasco, of the constant bickering of his sons, and of all the other drama in the novel. It's not the earth's fault if Wang Lung wants to do his own thing.

    One last thing. Notice that the title isn't Wang Lung, or The House of Hwang, or even The House of Wang. It's The Good Earth, and the earth will continue to be good long after they are all gone. Buck is interested in people, but she's also interested in how they fit into the big picture. The title never lets us forget that the book isn't just about Wang Lung; it's about how Wang Lung interacts with the earth.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    BUT ONE DAY he saw clearly for a little while. It was a day on which his two sons had come and after they had greeted him courteously they went out and they walked about the house on to the land. Now Wang Lung followed them silently, and they stood, and he came up to them slowly, and they did not hear the sound of his footsteps nor the sound of his staff on the soft earth, and Wang Lung heard his second son say in his mincing voice,

    "This field we will sell and this one, and we will divide the money between us evenly. Your share I will borrow at good interest, for now with the railroad straight through I can ship rice to the sea and I..."

    But the old man heard only these words, "sell the land," and he cried out and he could not keep his voice from breaking and trembling with his anger,

    "Now, evil, idle sons—sell the land!" He choked and would have fallen, and they caught him and held him up, and he began to weep.

    Then they soothed him and they said, soothing him,

    "No—no—we will never sell the land—"

    "It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land," he said brokenly. "Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land—"

    And the old man let his scanty tears dry upon his cheeks and they made salty stains there. And he stooped and took up a handful of the soil and he held it and he muttered,

    "If you sell the land, it is the end."

    And his two sons held him, one on either side, each holding his arm, and he held tight in his hand the warm loose earth. And they soothed him and they said over and over, the elder son and the second son,

    "Rest assured, our father, rest assured. The land is not to be sold."

    But over the old man's head they looked at each other and smiled. (34.87-98)

    The last 11 lines of The Good Earth reinforce the basic message of the novel. Wang Lung tells his sons that they need the land to live. But they have already grown up separated from the land, and it's clear that as soon as Wang Lung dies, they're going to sell his land to the highest bidder.

    The ending of the novel also bookends the story. We met Wang Lung on his wedding day, when he was a farmer whose land was more important to him than anything else. Even though it took him several chapters, Wang Lung is now back on his farm. All he cares about is the land, and instead of being like an Old Lord, he is more like his father.

    Wang Lung's story is back where it started, just as the seasons go through cycles and return to where they started. But this last scene is also the beginning of another cycle: the House of Hwang is also repeating its history. We know that someday Wang Lung's sons will try to sell the land, just like the Young Lords did. That day is almost here.

    The ending also tells us that this is the end of Wang Lung's story. The next book in The House of Earth trilogy is titled Sons. We'll give you three guesses what that book is about.

  • Setting

    Since time can be a little weird in The Good Earth, we want to give you a couple of facts about the big picture before we start up this magical mystery ride. The novel takes place in China over the course of about 50 years. It ends around the 1930s, when Wang Lung is around 70 years old. The overriding theme here is that China is changing.

    China in Transition

    Wang Lung and his family couldn't be living in more exciting times. It seems like every other day, there's a new war, revolution, or rebellion. During this time, China begins its transition from an imperial to a communist system of government.

    The End of the Qing Dynasty (The Xinhai Revolution)

    Here's what we mean when we say that time is strange in the novel. In the first chapter, Wang Lung goes to get a haircut before meeting O-lan, and the barber says: “This would not be a bad-looking farmer if he would cut off his hair. The new fashion is to take off the braid" (1.64).

    Cutting off this braid, called a queue, would have been illegal before the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. You probably noticed that the next header is the Boxer Rebellion, which ended in 1901 but happens several chapters later in the novel. What's going on here? While Buck did live in China for several decades, she's not a China scholar. So we wouldn't be surprised if she arranged these events from memory and made a mistake.

    Anyway, if Wang Lung is still wearing his queue after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, he is really behind the times. The pigtail was a mandatory symbol of subservience to Qing rule. Not wearing it was punishable by death. When the Qing dynasty was overthrown, people rushed to cut theirs off. Mao Zedong himself was one of the first to cut his queue off (source). But Wang Lung, a poor farmer out in the country without any way to hear the news, seems to know nothing about this. He's just scared the barber wants to cut off his queue.

    Still, why should Wang Lung know about any of this? The revolution didn't change the standard of living or affect Wang Lung's life at all. It is super historically significant, since it marks the end of 2000 years of monarchy, but it didn't do much for your everyday guy in the street.

    The Boxer Rebellion

    When the family goes to the South, something starts happening during the springtime. People start handing out pamphlets and talking about strange things. Wang Lung hears about what's going on, but he doesn't totally understand the significance: "[…] Wang Lung heard a young man haranguing a crowd at the corner of the Confucian temple, where any man may stand, if he has the courage to speak out, and the young man said that China must have a revolution and must rise against the hated foreigners […]" (12.6).

    Wang Lung is hearing the kinds of arguments that would fuel the Boxer Rebellion. The movement took place between 1898 and 1901, and it opposed Christianity and other foreign influence over China. While he is in the South, Wang Lung experiences both Christianity and foreign influence for the first time, but he doesn't totally get what's up with them.

    Wang Lung experiences the Boxer Rebellion mainly as an opportunity to take money and jewels from the rich (14.103). He's not the only one who experienced the Boxer Rebellion this way: so many people were engaged in looting that some historians call it an "orgy of looting" (source).

    The Boxer Rebellion had some long-term impacts. It weakened the Imperial dynasty (which would lead to the Xinhai Revolution), it marked the beginning of China's modernization, and it led to the closing of areas under foreign control, called Concessions.

    The Chinese Civil War

    Poor Wang Lung, he's always behind the times.

    Near the end of the novel, he asks his grandchildren about their education: "'Do you study the Four Books?' Then they laughed with clear young scorn at a man so old as this and they said, ‘No, grandfather, and no one studies the Four Books since the Revolution'" (34.40).

    The Four Books are the core texts of Confucianism. For Wang Lung's whole life, these books were the basis of a traditional education that culminated in the Imperial Examination, which was sort of like the SAT or the ACT. These texts and exams were banned after the establishment of the Republic of China in Taiwan and the People's Republic of China on the mainland.

    While it's difficult to explain the impact of the Chinese Civil War overall, it's easy enough to see what it means for Wang Lung. Already, Wang Lung can't understand his sons because they didn't grow up on the land. Now he won't be able to understand his grandchildren, either, because not only did they grow up away from the land, they also don't know the texts that governed behavior and all social interactions for everyone of the older generations.

    Talk about a generation gap. It's as if Wang Lung and his grandchildren live in completely different worlds.

    The Communist Revolution

    This is the last big historical event in the novel. We only learn about through Wang Lung's third son. At one point, he says to Wang Lung: “There is to be a war such as we have not heard of—there is to be a revolution and fighting and war such as never was, and our land is to be free!" (32.40).

    This goes totally over Wang Lung's head. Our hero has no idea that his son is talking about communism.

    Even though the other historical events have little impact on Wang Lung's life, if the novel were to continue, his life would change dramatically under communism. For one thing, his land would be redistributed to farmers poorer than him. He might even be sentenced to death. Foot binding would be outlawed, Wang Lung wouldn't be able to purchase another wife, and women would start to be more than just slaves.

    But Buck ends the novel before any of this happens, so all Wang Lung and his family know about the Revolution is this: “Well, and he does not write a letter, but now and then one comes from the South and it is said he is a military official and great enough in a thing they call a Revolution there, but what it is I do not know—perhaps some sort of business" (34.55). So how much do they actually know? Pretty much nothing.

    What's the Big Deal?

    All of these important historical events only occur in the margins of the characters' lives. Most of the time they are like a vague rumor, like this one: “It is but another war somewhere. Who knows what all this fighting to and fro is about? But so it has been since I was a lad and so will it be after I am dead and well I know it" (14.41). Even when it's right before their eyes, the characters often don't see the big picture.

    Why does Buck choose this time period and then downplay the importance of these events? Maybe she wants to tell us that for average people, these events don't mean much. Things happening on the macro scale in China pale in importance to the micro scale of Wang Lung's little farm and the land. It's hard to worry about big events going on far, far away when you have to worry about where your next meal is coming from.

    Wang Lung's Farm

    We're not exaggerating when we say that Wang Lung's land is the most important thing in the novel. Everything is about this land. There's land, there's buying more land, there's getting back to the land, there's taking care of the land. Who cares if there's a war going on, when locusts are devouring the crops?

    Strangely enough, even though we read so much about Wang Lung's farm, we don't really get to know what it looks like. We don't even know what he plants. The focus of Wang Lung's farm is on the land itself, almost as an abstraction.
    Here's an early description of the old farmhouse: “The kitchen was made of earthen bricks as the house was, great squares of earth dug from their own fields, and thatched with straw from their own wheat. Out of their own earth had his grandfather in his youth fashioned also the oven, baked and black with many years of meal preparing. On top of this earthen structure stood a deep, round, iron cauldron" (1.5).

    Did you get that? The house is made out of earth, with a roof grown on their own farm; and even the food is prepared in an oven made out of earth.

    If that wasn't enough to convince you of the importance of the land over everything else, just flip through the book and pick a page. We bet that you will land on a description of the earth.

    Remember how we said that time is weird? That's probably also because time in the novel is measured by seasons and harvests, not calendar years. How do you know it's springtime? Because it's March? No—because there are peaches: “The first peaches of spring—the first peaches! Buy, eat, purge your bowels of the poisons of winter!" (1.50).

    How do you know when it's your first son's birthday? He was born after the wheat had been harvested and the rice was ripe, so whenever that happens, you know it's his birthday: “The wheat had borne and been cut and the field flooded and the young rice set, and now the rice bore harvest, and the ears were ripe and full after the summer rains and the warm ripening sun of early autumn" (3.20).

    By focusing on the unchanging land in the midst of a changing nation, Buck points out the contrast between everyday life and big events. For most people, everyday life seems much more important than things like revolutions. At the same time, certain things in everyday life—like the land—are more important than historical events could ever be. The land was there before these revolutions, and it will be there after them.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (7) Snow Line

    Beyond its simple words, The Good Earth is fairly complex. The good news is that you can choose how complex you want it to be. In easy mode, you can read the novel as if you were Wang Lung. You won't get everything, but it's okay, because he doesn't get everything, either. Since Buck’s writing style is fairly easy to understand, that's a walk in the park.

    In intermediate mode, you can try to understand the feelings and emotions of all the other characters by reading between the lines. Or, if you're hardcore, you can try hard mode. Then you'd also try to understand the entire political situation of China at the time, as well as Confucianism, Taoism, Chinese storytelling, and traditional Chinese culture.

    We like to play hard mode over here at Shmoop, but we won't mind if you want to take it easy. We understand.

  • Writing Style

    Simple, Bible-y, Chinese Epic-Like


    You won't find any flowery prose here. Buck's writing style could be compared to Hemingway's because of its simplicity. There are no parentheses, streams of consciousness, or complicated sentence structures. Even elementary school children could understand these sentences like this: "And so it was with all houses that were not, like Wang Lung's, built upon a hill, and these hills stood up like islands. And men went to and from town by boat and by raft, and there were those who starved as they ever had." It's just good old simple writing.

    It's not just Buck's word choice that's simple: it's the whole structure of the novel. Wang Lung is the protagonist, and everything and everyone revolves around him. There is never a segue into some kind of subplot with characters unrelated to the main theme. It's just Wang Lung, his family, and their goal of being rich.

    Wouldn't it feel wrong if Buck decided to use grandiose language to describe these simple people? That would be like asking Einstein to help you with elementary math, right?

    The Bible and the Chinese Epic

    We don't know about you guys, but Buck's prose strikes us as mighty Bible-y—particularly if it's the King James Bible we're talking about. Of course, the King James Bible is famous for its flowery prose, but Buck seems to emulate the style even with her simple words.

    Try reading this one out loud in your best preacher voice: “As he had been healed of his sickness of heart when he came from the Southern city and comforted by the bitterness he had endured there, so now again Wang Lung was healed of his sickness of love by the good dark earth of his fields and he felt the moist soil on his feet and he smelled the earthy fragrance rising up out of the furrows he turned for the wheat" (22.1). It's pretty Bible-y, right?

    It could also be said that Buck's style comes out of the Chinese storytelling tradition. Some might say that even though she doesn't use a single word of Chinese (unless you count names), Buck manages to give us the feel of Chinese in English. Others might say that Buck's old and stilted language, even though it's more elegant than jokes about Chinese takeout, is just another attempt by a Western author to pass off stereotypes as "authentic China" (source).

    Buck, who grew up in China as the child of missionaries, has said herself that both the King James Bible and Chinese traditions are an influence on her writing. She's also said that when she writes, she translates her thoughts from Chinese into English (source). English was, after Chinese, actually her second language (source). How does her writing come off to you?

  • Foot Binding

    First a history lesson, brought to you by the professors at Shmoop University and the number five.

    Foot binding may have started in China as early as the 10th century. No one really knows how or why it started, but the idea was that small feet were beautiful. At first, only upper-class women had their feet bound, but by the 19th century the practice spread to the lower classes.

    So here's how you do it. When the girl is really young—like younger than five years old—you basically start breaking her foot. The foot is bent in half and layers of tightly bound cloth break the toes. When that's all done her feet will look like this.

    Bound feet could get infected, rot, or have all kinds of other problems. They were a lot of work to create and to maintain. On top of the medical issues, women with bound feet couldn't walk more than a few steps because of the pain. However, the strange ways they walked were considered attractive.

    Considering that these women could never work in the field, it makes sense that it took a long time for this practice to become popular with the lower classes; it's totally not practical. But by the time The Good Earth takes place, even poor farmers like Wang Lung knew that bound feet were sexy.

    O-lan's feet are not bound, and Wang Lung isn't too happy about that, “He saw with an instant's disappointment that her feet were not bound" (1.131). Grandpa, because he's more reasonable than Wang Lung, tells him he doesn't need that kind of lady. Even though Wang Lung agrees at first, that doesn't stop him from seeking out bound feet.

    No wonder he immediately notices Lotus's feet: “And if one had told him that there could be feet like these, little feet thrust into pink satin shoes no longer than a man's middle finger, and swinging childishly over the bed's edge—if anyone had told him he would not have believed it" (19.24). That bit about pink satin shoes no longer than a man's middle finger, by the way, is totally legit. Take a look at these if you don't believe us.

    If we weren't sure before what bound feet meant, it's clear now. Bound feet represent beauty, and unbound feet represent ugliness. So even before he sees Lotus's tiny feet, Wang Lung starts to resent O-lan for her unbound ones. “It seemed to him that she was altogether hideous, but the most hideous of all were her big feet in their loose cotton cloth shoes, and he looked at them with anger so that she thrust them yet farther under the bench" (18.8).

    In a way, this shows us Wang Lung's confusion between appearance and reality. A bound foot may seem sexy when it's in a cute pink shoe, but the physical reality underneath isn't too pretty. (Only a foot in bindings or in little shoes was considered sexy; women with bound feet weren't supposed to show men what their feet actually looked like underneath.) Lotus may seem sexy on the outside, too, but we know she's no good for Wang Lung, and vice-versa. Meanwhile, O-lan, with her unbound, dependable feet, seems like chopped liver to Wang Lung.

    Now, O-lan's not dumb. She knows that only the beautiful people get love. So she binds her youngest daughter's feet without even telling Wang Lung. He doesn't even notice until she's 10 (25.28). Why does O-lan bind her feet? As the third daughter tells Wang Lung, "[M]y mother said I was not to weep aloud because you are too kind and weak for pain and you might say to leave me as I am, and then my husband would not love me even as you do not love her" (25.30).

    So O-lan teaches her daughter the formula: bound feet equal beauty, and beauty equals love. Therefore, if you know your math: bound feet equal love.

  • Pearls

    The pearls first appear by surprise. Wang Lung and O-lan are engaging in some husband–wife relations when he realizes that her breasts feel strange. Yeah, well, that's because she has a whole bunch of jewels hidden between them! How did he miss that?

    Wang Lung immediately wants to use the jewels to buy land, but O-lan has a request, "'If I could have two,' she went on humbly, 'only two small ones—two small white pearls even... 'Pearls!' he repeated, agape. ‘I would keep them—I would not wear them,' she said, 'only keep them.'" (16.18) Aww, man. Every time we read that, we feel like we did when Bambi's mom died.

    But then something amazing happens. Wang Lung is "moved by something he did not understand," and he actually lets O-lan choose two pearls (16.24). After that, Wang Lung thinks about the hidden pearls every now and then. She never talks about them or even takes them out to look at. They're just there, hidden, close to her heart.

    The pearls get mentioned again when O-lan gives birth to the twins: “And when Wang Lung went into the inner room there was O-lan upon the bed with two new-born children, a boy and a girl as alike as two grains of rice. He laughed boisterously at what she had done and then he thought of a merry thing to say, ‘So this is why you bore two jewels in your bosom!'" (17.10).

    It's kind of strange that the twins look totally different from their siblings, right? They're both pale and more beautiful than the other siblings put together. Since pearls are prized for being white and beautiful, it wouldn't be surprising if the ones that O-lan keeps have something to do with that, almost as if the pearls themselves had some influence on the birth on the twins.

    The next time that we see the pearls, it's not such a happy occasion. Wang Lung has come to take them away from O-lan: "There is no use in keeping pearls for nothing"(19.68), he says. What he really means is there is no use in an ugly woman keeping them. So he takes the pearls and gives them to Lotus.

    We don't hear much about the pearls after that, but when O-lan dies, Wang Lung remembers them. That's his only regret. "And out of his heaviness there stood out strangely but one clear thought and it was a pain to him, and it was this, that he wished he had not taken the two pearls from O-lan that day when she was washing his clothes at the pool, and he would never bear to see Lotus put them in her ears again" (26.85).

    The pearls are the only things that O-lan has ever had as a reward; they symbolize the only time she has ever really felt appreciated. 99% of the time, she just works and works, and no one says thank you or anything. So when Wang Lung gave her the pearls, they were like a symbol of his appreciation for her—in other words, his love for her. They were something she could hold on to during all her suffering.

    Maybe it's that love that allowed her to give birth to such beautiful children. When Wang Lung takes the pearls back, he thinks he's just taking pearls. But really, he's taking away his love for O-lan. It's no coincidence that the pearls go to Lotus, Wang Lung's new love.

    And we know how that love works out.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

    You'd think that because this is Wang Lung's story, we'd be inside of his head, but not quite. Since The Good Earth is written in third person limited omniscient, we experience the story as if we're outsiders watching everything that is happening. The limited part comes in when we can hear Wang Lung's thoughts—and only his thoughts.

    Since everything is told from Wang Lung's perspective, we only notice the things that he notices, and we forget the things that he forgets. The things that he doesn’t understand—particularly people, since we don’t get to peek into their thoughts or feelings—also confuse us.

    Buck also attempts to realistically portray how we experience memory, so time isn't just linear in the novel. Huge chunks of time are just skipped over. For example, if you had to remember elementary school, you'd probably focus on a few key moments and gloss over the rest, even though you're remembering five or six years of time. That's what happens here in the novel.

    Man, this is sounding a lot like the first person, right? You might be wondering why Buck wrote The Good Earth in third person instead. It could be because her writing style is influenced by Chinese literary and storytelling styles, which were generally in third person and not first person.

    • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

      Tragedy? Doesn't this seem more like a rags-to-riches story? You'd be right… if there were a happy ending. The ending of this novel, though, is anything but happy. Plus, Wang Lung has a tragic flaw: pride. That's what makes everything fall apart.

      Anticipation Stage

      Wang Lung is poor and he wants to be rich, as rich as the House of Hwang.

      Wang Lung is a normal farmer, doing normal things, but he has big dreams. The life of a farmer isn't enough for him, and his pride is hurt when other people look down on him. So when he goes to the House of Hwang for the first time, to pick up his new wife, and they treat him like a nobody makes a plan. One day nobody will be able to treat him like an nobody.

      Dream Stage

      After O-lan comes to Wang Lung-s house, everything is awesome. She knows how to do everything, even things that only rich people do. She's a hard worker, and she bares sons. Things get even better when Wang Lung buys the land of the House of Hwang. His harvests are huge, and everyone knows that he's rich now. His plan is actually working.

      Frustration Stage

      A famine comes and takes everything away. Wang Lung and his family have no money, no food, and they're on the brink of death. Going South saves their lives, but it seems they can never save up enough money to go back home. During this phase, our tragic hero is forced to do some kind of dark act, and for Wang Lung that act is almost selling his daughter. Instead, he steals some jewels from a man who thinks he's going to die.

      Nightmare Stage

      Think getting rich will fix everything? Not so much. Everything gets worse. There's constant fighting, people start hating the family, and Wang Lung's friends and family start dying. It's just out of control. No matter what Wang Lung does to fix the problems, there are just new ones waiting for him.

      Destruction Stage

      Normally the tragic hero is murdered or commits suicide, but Wang Lung just gets old. He moves back to where it all started and tries to finish his life in peace. You could say that instead of Wang Lung committing suicide, it is his family that does it. His sons are already planning to kill the family by selling the land. That's the destruction in this destruction stage.

    • Plot Analysis

      Exposition (Initial Situation)

      A Good Old Country Boy

      Wang Lung and his family are simple farmers living in the countryside of China. The land gives them food, and the land gives them money. That's the basic idea. Farmers. Farming.

      Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

      Movin' on… Down?

      Time to add some trouble to the mix. During a drought and a famine, the family is forced to go South. They lose everything and have to beg in the streets. They have no idea how they will get home, and it sounds like a revolution is coming.

      Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

      Vive la Révolution!

      The revolution comes, and it ends with Wang Lung making beaucoup moolah. The family can go back home. They're rich, and they can live like kings, so there should be no more problems. They can live like kings. This is totally a turning point for the family's fortunes. They never have to be poor again, right?

      Falling Action

      Wang Lung's Got 99 Problems, but Being Rich Ain't One

      Now the real problems start. The family starts turning into the House of Hwang, who imploded out of their own greed. Money flows like water, and they start to forget their roots as farmers. It's the beginning of the end, literally.


      This Seems Awfully Familiar, Doesn't It?

      We've seen this ending before: this is how the House of Hwang fell apart. As his sons get greedier and greedier, Wang Lung gets older and older. Eventually, he doesn't care anymore. That's when his sons start talking about selling the land… and we all know what happened when the House of Hwang sold their land.

    • Three-Act Plot Analysis

      Act I

      Farmer Wang Lung gets married to O-lan, and the two start a family. Things go pretty well, and life is looking up… until a drought comes. During the drought, the family is forced to go South in order to survive. But everything changes when Wang Lung and O-lan get their hands on money and a ton of jewels during a revolt. They will never be the same again.

      Act II

      It turns out that being rich doesn't suit Wang Lung. He gets into all kinds of trouble: he buys a second wife, Lotus, and that fills the house with drama. Then he marries his first son to a fancy city slicker, which creates even more problems. The first and second son fight. Their wives fight. And a war comes straight to Wang Lung's doorstep. What could be worse than that?

      Act III

      After the war, Wang Lung suddenly realizes he is old. Everything speeds by, and he prepares to die. He moves back to the old house and lives like he used to there. Ever since he got rich, he's been seeking peace, and now he's got it. We know, of course, that it won't last long, because his sons are intent on making this story "The Fall of the House of Hwang II."

    • Allusions

      Literary and Philosophical References

      • King Lear (throughout): Wang Lung calls his first daughter "poor fool," which is what Lear calls Cordelia
      • The Four Confucian Books (34.40)

      Historical References

      • The Xinhai Revolution (1.64)
      • The Boxer Rebellion (14.92)
      • The Opium Wars (27.43)
      • The Chinese Communist Revolution (32.40)