Study Guide

Second Son (Nung Wen) and His Wife in The Good Earth

By Pearl S. Buck

Second Son (Nung Wen) and His Wife

The Second Son

When the second son is born Wang Lung and O-lan aren't quite as excited as they were the first time around. He's just not as impressive: "O-Ian had lain herself upon the bed after the cooking of the meal and the child lay beside her—a fat, placid child, well enough, but not so large as the first one" (6.21). Wang Lung and O-lan don't even bother celebrating like they did with the first son. Their feelings about this kid at this point can probably be summed up in one word: meh.

Money-Loving and Sneaky as a Snake

The first son loves correctness, but the second son loves moolah. Even when he's a little kid, he loves the money he gets. He even sleeps with it and insists on using it himself to pay for his own rice (11.65). We don't know about you, but the only coins we slept with as kids came from the tooth fairy.

Son #2 even gets in trouble because of his attachment to bling. While the family is in the South, he steals instead of begs because he knows that's where the big payoff is: "'You must have begged of a foreigner this day,' he said to O-lan […] Then the younger boy, too young for wisdom and filled with his own pride of cleverness, said, ‘I took it—it is mine, this meat.'" (12.25). After that scene, Wang Lung beats the kid until he almost bleeds.

This little dude is also sneaky. He even looks sketchy: "[T]his second one was short and slight and yellow-skinned, and there was that in him which reminded Wang Lung of his own father, a crafty, sharp, humorous eye, and a turn for malice if the moment came for it" (25.1). The second son's eyes seem especially sneaky: they are "steady, secret eyes" (28.57)—and, in case we missed it, they are also "veiled and secret" (33.45).

It's probably no coincidence that the second son is the one Wang Lung hears talking about selling the land (34.88). The only thing this guy really understands is money, so the land for him is just an abstraction: it's just something that can rake in the dough. He doesn't feel any real connection with it.

Mr. Rational

Unlike his brother and his father, the second son doesn't have a wild streak. He's cool, calm, and collected... kind of like a robot. Wang Lung even forgets that he needs to get married because the second son doesn’t really seem interested in ladies at all. Then, when it's time to choose a wife he doesn't even care about her looks (how's that for a change?): “I desire a maid from a village, of good landed family and without poor relatives, and one who will bring a good dowry with her, neither plain nor fair to look upon, and a good cook, so that even though there are servants in the kitchen she may watch them […]" (28.61).

This dude just wants the most efficient lady he can find. We guess there are worse reasons to get married? Wang Lung admires him for this, anyway, but we think the second son can go a little too far with his rationality.


It's good to be rational and not let your emotions lead you into trouble. It's good not to spend all your money, like the older brother. But just like his big bro—and his dad when he's away from the land—the second son takes things to extremes.

For starters, he's a cheapskate on his own wedding day: “Now this second son of his seemed more strange to Wang than any of his sons, for even at the wedding day, which came on, he was careful of the money spent on meats and on wines and he divided the tables carefully […]" (30.163). Come on, who does that? He's not just being cheap; he's showing his family that he just doesn't care that much about them.

Now, both the first son and the second son are into money, but they're into it in different ways. The first son wants to be rich, but the second son is just interested in money itself. He's stingy because what he wants most is just to have money. He's constantly thinking about money, and he's constantly worrying that his older brother is going to spend it all. Surprise, surprise: this causes problems between these two dudes.

We've seen this story before. Things that should be good, like managing money and keeping a cool head, end up becoming bad. Wang Lung got rich by saving his money, but he knew when it was important to spend money, and he knew what to spend it on. Almost everything that Wang Lung buys is for the land. Wang Lung wants to get money primarily so that he can buy more land. The second son, on the other hand, just loves money for it's own sake. That's where he goes wrong. Just like his big brother, he doesn't think about the land.

Second Son's Wife

We don't know very much about the second son's wife. We know that she is “a good, buxom, careful maid with no fault except a ready laugh […]" (29.13). We also know that unlike the first daughter-in-law, she's not delicate, tiny, prim, or proper. She wasn't a slave like O-lan, but she didn't come from a rich family, either.

Pretty much all we know about this lady is that she's efficient. That's the only thing the second son cares about, so it's pretty much all we find out. We're sure there's more to her than that, but don't ask the second son what that might be; he's probably too busy counting his money to find out.