The Good Earth Summary
We bet you're wondering where the Brief and Sparse plot summary is. Look, we're not magicians! There is nothing brief or sparse about The Good Earth, so let's offer you this instead.
Here's our super brief and super sparse plot summary.
First there was the land. Wang Lung was a farmer who lived on that land. Then he got married, got rich, and had kids. Wang Lung moved away from land. Then problems started. When he got older, Wang Lung remembered the land, but it was too late. His children have already forgotten the land, and it's easy to see that more trouble is coming.
- Wang Lung is getting married; he's pretty excited. It's a good day, because it's going to rain, and that will water Wang Lung's crops.
- Wang Lung is a farmer, and his life is centered on the earth. His kitchen is made of earth, his house is made of earth, and everything else is made of earth.
- Wang Lung is also super poor. He measures out every drop of water and every leaf of grass for fueling the oven.
- Since his mom died six years ago, Wang Lung has been taking care of his father. He's tired of that, but now a lady is coming to the house, so he doesn't have to work anymore.
- Plus, with a wife and children around, Wang Lung won't have to deal with his uncle pestering him to stay in his house anymore.
- Because he wants to look nice for his new wife, Wang Lung does something that he hasn't done since he was a little kid: he takes a bath.
- Wang Lung starts dreaming about his children and his wife, and he forgets all about the bath and his father. When Grandpa comes to see what's going on, Wang Lung is so excited that he gives him a cup of tea—which, by the way, is really fancy and expensive.
- Wang Lung's dad doesn't like all this fancy stuff that Wang Lung is doing, but Wang Lung is excited about the wedding day.
- After getting ready, Wang Lung heads out to the Street of the Barbers to get a haircut and to the market to buy food for his wedding feast.
- Wang Lung decides to buy incense for the earth gods that are outside of his home.
- On the way to the market, Wang Lung passes the House of Hwang, which is where his lady lives. Everyone says that it is a bad idea to marry somebody from the House of Hwang, but Wang Lung just wants someone to marry.
- It's bad enough that she's from the House of Hwang, but Wang Lung's dad says that this lady can't possibly be pretty either. If she is pretty, then she won't be a virgin, and she'll be too fancy to work on the fields. Wang Lung's kind of annoyed by this, but he realizes that his dad is right.
- Wang Lung finally makes it to the street of the barbers. He wants to get his braid cleaned up, but he falls into the hands of some jokesters who want to cut it straight off.
- Wang Lung makes it out of the barbershop with his braid intact and feeling pretty spiffy. He's spent a lot of money, but it's a special occasion.
- Wang Lung goes to buy all the fancy food and incense for his wedding feast.
- Then it's time to head to the House of Hwang to pick up the bride, but Wang Lung just can't do it. He chills out in a teashop until he gathers enough courage.
- The people at the House of Hwang can see that Wang Lung is a county bumpkin, and they make fun of him when he comes for his bride. The gatekeeper even forces him to dish out bribe money before he'll let him in.
- The House of Hwang turns out to be the fanciest thing that Wang Lung has ever seen. He could fit a billion of his houses in the inner courts here.
- The gatekeeper takes Wang Lung to meet the Old Mistress, but she barely even notices him because she is too busy with her opium.
- Finally the Old Mistress calls O-lan to come meet Wang Lung. She gives the two of them a long speech about how ugly and stupid O-lan is and kicks them out.
- Finally alone with his new wife, Wang Lung stares her down, and the description is not pretty. But, whatever, he's married now.
- Wang Lung gets his marriage started off right by talking gruffly to his blushing bride and making her do heavy labor. He's too embarrassed for all the people in the court to see him lugging all of her stuff, so they sneak though a back door.
- Even though he doesn't really seem nice, you can tell that Wang Lung is excited to be married, because he gives O-lan some peaches to eat. You can also tell that life in the court must have harder than it looked, because O-lan holds the peaches as if they were made of solid gold.
- On the way back to the farm, Wang Lung and O-lan pass the temple to the earth, which was made by Wang Lung's grandfather. The bride and groom light some sticks of incense together. It's their first act of marriage. Aww.
- When Wang Lung and O-lan get home, Wang Lung's dad is there waiting. But because it would be beneath him to notice O-lan, he pretends to ignore her and complains about all the money Wang Lung spent. Wang Lung ignores him and takes O-lan to the kitchen so she can cook her own wedding feast.
- Everybody is invited to the party: Wang Lung's uncle, his cousin, his neighbor, random dudes from the village—everyone. When Wang Lung asks O-lan to serve the guests, O-lan refuses to come out because it's not proper, and Wang Lung is proud that he has such a timid wife. (Yay?) Everyone is nomming on the food.
- When they complement the chef, Wang Lung is like, "Nah, it's nasty." But he's secretly proud.
- When the party's over, O-lan is still working, but Wang Lung takes her to their new bedroom. He’s shy, but he tries to act all manly. When they finally get into bed, he pretends to sleep at first, but then he jumps on her, and they consummate the marriage.
- It's the day after the wedding night, and Wang Lung is chilling in bed. Now that he's married, he doesn't have to get up and take care of his father.
- While O-lan is in the kitchen getting breakfast ready, Wang Lung lies in bed thinking about his new life and wife. Only, of course he shouldn't be thinking about this, because she's only a lady and not important.
- O-lan is making everything at the home awesome. She's collecting food, taking care of the animals, and gathering fertilizer. She's even making new clothes for everyone.
- But cleaning the house isn't enough to keep O-lan occupied. One day she decides to go out and help Wang Lung on the farm. Then, suddenly, she tells him she's pregnant. Wang Lung freaks out, but O-lan acts like it's nothing out of the ordinary.
- When they get home Wang Lung tells his dad that O-lan is pregnant. The old man starts laughing, and everyone is excited for a new life in the house.
- Fast-forward nine months, and O-lan is ready to give birth. Even though Wang Lung wants her to have a midwife, O-lan doesn't want anyone to help her—especially not anyone from the House of Hwang.
- When Wang Lung tries to persuade her, O-lan speaks the most she as ever spoken before. She tells him that when she goes to the House of Hwang, she will be dressed in her finest silks, with her brand-new baby boy, and it is going to be sweet. They won't see her one moment before, and that's that.
- So when the time comes, O-lan goes into her room and gives birth all alone. Outside of her room, Wang Lung waits anxiously until he hears a cry. When everyone figures out that it's a boy, all he cares about is how awesome he is for getting a firstborn son.
- Wang Lung looks at O-lan and remembers that she just gave birth all by herself, without anesthesia, and without complaining. We guess that he realizes that he should probably care about her too, and he says he will go to the market to get some stuff for her to feel better.
- So, proud Wang Lung heads off to the market to get himself some red eggs and sugar. The sugar merchant halfheartedly congratulates him on his new baby, and Wang Lung thinks that this is the most amazing thing ever. He must be the most fortunate man alive.
- Of course, it's not good to be too fortunate, because then you are a target for bad fortune. To protect himself, Wang Lung runs to the temple of the earth gods and leaves some incense there. Whew, safe.
- Back home, time passes quickly, and before we know it, it is winter. O-lan is back out in the fields, and Wang Lung watches her while she breastfeeds the baby.
- This year, the harvests are better than ever and the Lung family is living high on the hog, unlike his lazy uncle's family, who spend all their money on fancy clothes. We get the feeling that this uncle is going to be trouble for Wang Lung, don't you?
- Anyway, soon it is the baby's one month birthday, and he lives. The family throws a big party, and everyone is invited.
- Happy New Year! Wang Lung is busy putting lucky red paper on anything and everything in his house. O-lan is busy making mooncakes, and when everyone else sees them, they are super impressed.
- O-lan did work in the kitchen of the House of Hwang, after all, but Wang Lung and his dad are not used to such fancy stuff. Anyway, the cakes are not for them; they're for the Old Mistress at the court.
- Wang Lung doesn't even care about the New Year: he's just waiting to go to the House of Hwang and show off. He and O-lan go on the second day, with the cakes and their nicest clothes.
- Just one year ago Wang Lung was bumbling in there as a poor farmer to get his wife. Now he's rich enough to hide silver in his walls, and he's got a new baby boy.
- This time, the gatekeeper treats Wang Lung like a celebrity. Wang Lung enjoys all of this and puts on airs, while O-lan and the baby go to meet the Old Mistress.
- It seems like there has been a recession at the House of Hwang: people are wearing last year's clothes, and that's not a good sign. Turns out that they are not too thrifty over in the House of Hwang, and they need to sell their land to keep up with expenses.
- Wang Lung then has a great idea: he'll buy the land. O-lan is not so sure that this is a good idea at first, but he wins her over. They will buy the land of the great and mighty House of Hwang.
- Sometime between chapters 5 and 6, Wang Lung buys the land. It isn't quite as great of an experience as he expected, since no one is impressed by the fact that he has money, but hey, the land is his.
- The agent who took Wang Lung's money acts like it was just enough spare change for some gum, and that makes Wang Lung promise himself that one day he will own so much land that the House of Hwang will be nothing in comparison to him. When this guy holds a grudge, he holds a grudge.
- O-lan is pregnant again. Wang Lung isn't so thrilled this time. He's so used to O-lan helping him farm that he's annoyed that she needs to go home and give birth. Even when she comes back right after she had a baby all by herself, he just tells her to shrug it off and get back to work. Best. Husband. Ever.
- By the way, it's another boy. Grandpa's excited because that means the older kid gets to sleep with him and be his own personal electric blanket.
- The time is finally here. What time, you ask? Why, the time for Wang Lung's uncle to show us how he's going to mooch off of his nephew, of course.
- Remember how this uncle is a lazy good-for-nothing? Well, he goes to Wang Lung to ask for money since he knows that, according to the law of filial piety, Wang Lung can't refuse.
- So Wang Lung goes into his wall and takes out the silver to give to his uncle. To "borrow." Yeah, he's not seeing that money ever again.
- On top of everything else, O-lan has the nerve to give birth to a girl. Things are going downhill fast.
- After everything else is done, Wang Lung goes back to the farm to work, but there are a bunch of unlucky crows there. He tries to chase them away, but he can't even do that and they circle around him.
- As predicted, harvests are not going so well this year. No rain means no crops. But somehow, Wang Lung has managed to sell something, and guess what he's going to do with the money? That's correct: he's going to buy more of the land from the House of Hwang.
- Apparently things are getting worse over at the House of Hwang, what with the bad harvest, the old lady's opium habit, and the concubines. So they are more than happy to sell.
- Months pass by, and there's still no rain. Soon there is no food, and O-lan says they should eat the ox. Wang Lung doesn't want to eat the ox, because it's just like a friend to him. Grandpa tells Wang Lung that it's easier to buy an ox than to buy life, and it's time to have some ox dinner.
- As usual, Wang Lung's uncle is the first farmer to go hungry. He comes to Wang Lung over and over again to get some food, but eventually Wang Lung gets tired of his uncle and kicks him out. So his uncle starts spreading rumors around town about how rich he is.
- Let's keep in mind that this is the community of farmers who haven't had the harvest and can't eat. You can guess what happens.
- The whole town comes in a raging mob to steal all of Wang Lung's food and money. But—news flash—he doesn't have any.
- The hungry mob even starts trying to take Wang Lung's furniture, but O-lan isn't having that. She gives another one of her rare long speeches, and everyone puts everything back.
- Wang Lung is pretty freaked out about the riot, but thinking about his land makes everything feel better. At least they can't take that from him.
- Things are bad now. Wang Lung even goes to the gods of the earth and spits in their faces. No one's eating, no one's moving, the baby isn't even crying. It's bad.
- The only person who is doing well is Grandpa, since all the food goes to him before anyone else. Rumors are going around that cannibalism is happening in the countryside, and that somehow Wang Lung's uncle is looking pretty good considering that he has no food.
- That's enough to make Wang Lung decide that it's just about time to blow this Popsicle stand. O-lan's down with the plan, but she asks to leave only after she has given birth. That's when Wang Lung remembers that she is pregnant, and he asks Ching for a little food so that she won't die from hunger.
- The next day, like all the other days when his children were born, Wang Lung waits outside of the room until O-lan is all done. For a moment, he hears the baby cry and starts saying how it would be better if the baby were dead. Then he doesn't hear the baby crying anymore. Be careful what you wish for, Wang Lung.
- When he goes to see the baby, O-lan tells him it is dead. We can tell that she killed it by crushing its neck. He doesn't say anything, but he just wraps up the baby and tries to bury it in a graveyard. A dog keeps trying to eat the baby, and eventually Wang Lung just goes back home.
- How are Wang Lung and O-lan going to get to the South? He is so hungry that he's not even hungry anymore, and he's feeding the kids dirt to keep them full. It doesn't look too good for anyone.
- Suddenly, Wang Lung's uncle is back. He is certainly upbeat, considering that he should be starving, but he doesn't look like he hasn't been eating. Suspiciously, his three younger children are missing. You can connect the dots.
- Anyway, this uncle is here as a favor. Some nice men from the city are here to buy Wang Lung's land. Isn't that generous of them? Wang Lung's so desperate that he's thinking of selling it—until he realizes that they only want to give him chump change.
- No way is Wang Lung going to give it up his land for nothing; he'd rather die and bury his children on the land instead. As usual, O-lan suddenly appears to settle all the hubbub. They won't sell the land. But they will sell their furniture. That's that. The guys give them some silver, and Wang Lung and O-lan are on their way to the South.
- Wang Lung and his family pack everything and head out to the South. They pass the earth gods; then they get to the town. The gates of the House of Hwang are locked.
- Tons of people are sitting outside, wishing for food and shelter, but the door stays locked. We get the feeling that the poor people are going to resent the rich Hwangs for this sometime soon.
- There are tons of other people going South. They are getting on something called a "firewagon"— that would be a train. Wang Lung has never heard of it, and he's kind of scared, but there's nothing else to be done.
- Everyone makes it to the South. Wang Lung pays for the ride on the firewagon, gets off, and buys some food.
- On the wagon, some guys were bragging about all the stuff they knew about the South, and Wang Lung was listening for all of the information he could get. By now, he knows everything he has to do.
- The South is totally different from Wang Lung's hometown. People talk funny, they are mean, and they look down at him. Even though Grandpa is excited, the kids are crying, and everything is crazy.
- Once more, O-lan calms everyone down and takes control of the situation. She's been here before, and she remembers how these things are done, so Wang Lung leaves it up to her.
- By now, everybody's getting pretty hungry, so they head out to the public kitchens. Wang Lung has never seen this much food before, and he doesn't even get where it all comes from. The guy tells him that rich people donate it, but that's all he knows or cares about it.
- The next day, Wang Lung and O-lan need some more money for rice, so O-lan starts teaching the children how to beg. As for Wang Lung, he's too proud to beg. He tries to make a living pulling a rickshaw instead. It's a little more difficult than he imagined, but in a while he has his first customer and a shiny new coin. When everyone else finds out how much Wang Lung gets paid, they make fun of him. Then he learns that he has to make a lot more money if he ever wants to get out of the South.
- All of the children have made some money begging. Only Grandpa is sitting with his hands empty. He figures that he has worked long enough already. It's the young people's turn now.
- Everyone's used to the South now. Wang Lung's used to his job, the kids are used to begging, and everyone is used to being poor. The only thing is, none of them really know what's going on inside of the city. Somewhere in there, rich people are doing rich people things, but Wang Lung can't even imagine what they could be.
- The South is really different from Wang Lung's hometown, and he feels like he just doesn't belong. At least he feels this way until he pulls a white woman from America on his rickshaw and is so scared that he nearly collapses from exhaustion after running. After that, he kind of gets that there are people who are a little bit stranger than he is in this town.
- Okay. So Wang Lung is working all day for, like, a penny. And his family uses that to eat their only meal of the day. And there are weird foreigners. But, hey, at least they've got food. Right?
- Well, the kids are turning into thieves, and it doesn't look like they'll make enough money to get out of the South anytime soon. Wang Lung is starting to worry that he'll never get out of this big city and back to his little farm.
- The last straw is when the younger son comes home with a stolen piece of pork. That's it. Wang Lung can't handle it: they've got to go back.
- By now, you're probably getting the deal. Some people are rich, and some people are poor. While the rich play, the poor work so that the rich can play.
- Some people, like Wang Lung and the older people, don't pay any attention. But it looks like other people are starting to get angry. Wang Lung doesn't pay any attention to that. All he cares about is getting back to the land. But how? All they have to sell is their first daughter. Wang Lung doesn't want to sell her. But what else are they going to do?
- While Wang Lung is deciding, his hut-neighbor comes by, and tells him how he sold his daughters. That's what you have to do when you're poor, he says.
- During this conversation, Wang Lung starts to think that there is something strange about the neighbor. Something revolutionary-like.
- It's springtime. In the warm weather, people start venturing outside of their huts and gossiping with one another. As usual, Wang Lung is thinking about his land.
- Wang Lung is totally that awkward guy in the conversation, because while everyone else is talking about winning the lottery, he just says he would buy land with the money. Total buzz kill.
- So like we said, all Wang Lung is thinking about is land, so much so that he doesn't notice the weird stuff that's going on until one day, a foreigner hands him a piece of paper with Jesus crucified on it. Obviously, he's a little creeped out.
- No one knows what's the deal with this picture, and in the end O-lan just uses it to make some soles for the family's old shoes.
- Another day, Wang Lung gets another piece of paper—only this time, it's communist propaganda. He still doesn't get it, and even when he listens to a guy explaining how the man is keeping him down, he doesn't see the use to talking about it if they can't figure out how to make the rain come to water the crops. This guy really is a farmer at heart.
- Every day, the people are getting angrier and angrier. That's nothing new. But then one day, while Wang Lung is working, he sees men being arrested in the streets. This is bad. Real bad. He hides behind the hot water cauldrons until the strange people leave. When they're gone, he asks the shop owner what just happened. Guess what? It's war.
- Wang Lung runs back home and tells O-lan that they need to get out of there. Quickly. She tells him to wait a few days. We think she knows something he doesn't know.
- Wang Lung is so scared of going to war that he hides during the day and only goes to work at night. Strange things are happening during the day: the rich are fleeing and taking all their fancy stuff with them.
- Now it's going down. Soldiers are marching the streets, and all the shops have closed. Even the public kitchens are shut down. With no money and no food, Wang Lung is thinking about selling his daughter again. Then, just when he thinks there's nothing else to do, he hears a loud noise.
- It finally happened: the soldiers have broken into the walls surrounding the rich city, and it's about to get looted. As you can guess, things get a little crazy.
- The crowd is screaming. Wang Lung doesn't even know what's going on. While everyone else is stealing stuff, Wang Lung is just getting pushed along.
- That is, at least until he comes to the room of a very large man. As soon as he sees Wang Lung, this guy freaks out. He offers Wang Lung money for his life, and even though he wouldn't hurt a fly, Wang Lung takes it. Looks like he won't have to sell anyone, after all.
- Wang Lung is back on the land, and money is no object in setting up his farm. He's like a kid in a candy store, buying seeds to plant and oxen to work with. Okay, so somebody tore his door off, and his hoes and rakes are gone. What does it matter to him? He's got money! That will get fixed in a jiffy.
- What's a little weirder is the rumor that his uncle has been hanging out with a gang of thieves. Whatever—they left town, anyway, so Wang Lung doesn't see any problem.
- At the same time, Wang Lung learns that his friend Ching has been starving. Both his wife and daughter have died.
- Wang Lung decides to help Ching out by planting some seeds for him the next day, because Ching saved O-lan from dying a long time ago by giving Wang Lung some red beans. Wang Lung wants to return the favor.
- Wang Lung and O-lan set about fixing up the house. They even set up a new shrine for the gods of wealth.
- You thought you knew O-lan, didn't you? Yeah, well, so did Wang Lung. What he didn't know, and what we didn't know, is that she is way smarter than she looks.
- One day, Wang Lung finds out that O-lan has a bunch of gems hidden in her clothing. He's so stupefied that he has no idea what to do.
- O-lan tells him that she found the jewels when everyone was rushing into the great house. Because she used to live in a great house, she knew what to look for. Wang Lung decides that they have to sell the jewels, but he gets a surprise.
- O-lan wants to keep some of them. She's been one of the most rational characters in the whole book, but suddenly she wants something frivolous. We get why Wang Lung is shocked. In the end, he lets her choose some jewels, and she chooses two pearls.
- Now for the rest of the jewels: Wang Lung makes his way down to—you guessed it—the House of Hwang. Only everything is a little different this time. The door is locked, there are no servants around, and the old Lord even says that they have no money.
- Still, Wang Lung has some business to do. It's only the old Lord and some random lady left in the House of Hwang, so he has to do business with her. The lady tells him everything that happened: how bandits stormed into the house, how they tortured the old Lord, how the old Mistress died of fright, and how she started to rule the roost.
- After a while, Wang Lung gets the gist. But he still doesn't feel right doing business with this lady. Then he gets to thinking, "Serves the House of Hwang right for leaving their land!"
- So he finally does it. Wang Lung buys all the land of the House of Hwang.
- Everything is gravy after Wang Lung buys the land. He has more harvest than he knows what to do with, Ching moves in, and O-lan gives birth to twins. Life is good.
- Except one thing. His first daughter still can't talk; actually, she can't do any of the things that she's supposed to do at her age. It’s probably because of that year that they spent in South, so Wang Lung feels pretty guilty about it.
- Oh, and there's one other thing. Wang Lung can't read. This is a little bit of a problem, since he's sort of a businessman after all. After a while, he gets tired of all the jokes that everyone makes, and he decides that he's going to put his sons in school so that no one can make fun of him any more.
- This is great, because the first son has been dreaming of this all his life, anyway. But when he finds out, the younger son starts whining that he wants to go to school, too.
- When the brothers are at school, their teacher also gives them names.
- It's bad weather time again.
- This time, instead of a drought, there's a flood. But Wang Lung isn't scared. After all, he has a whole warehouse full of food.
- The only problem is that Wang Lung is bored. He's got too much time on his hands. Now that he's all big and rich, everyone else does everything for him. So, all of a sudden, he finds problems where there are none.
- For example, all of a sudden O-lan is hideous to him. How's that for loyalty? Trying to run away from his feelings and his guilt, Wang Lung wanders in the streets.
- But even the old teashop that he used to go to isn't good enough anymore; he's too rich to go there now. No, he's got to go to the fancy new teahouse. Of course, with all the gambling and the pictures of ladies, we're pretty sure that it's a brothel. But it does serve tea, so we guess that's technically accurate.
- So, imagine who he sees when he goes there. If you are thinking his uncle, you're close—but no cigar. It's Cuckoo. Now, Wang Lung had just been minding his business drinking tea before Cuckoo came along and started to bully him.
- Let's just say that Cuckoo is a bad influence.
- By the end of the chapter, we can kind of see where this is going.
- The flood is still here, and Wang Lung is still idle, so we guess bad stuff is going to happen now. Wang Lung goes back to the great teahouse and asks Cuckoo to see one of the girls, Lotus.
- When Wang Lung finally meets Lotus, he can't even say anything; he just stares. She's tiny and delicate, everything O-lan is not.
- After just one night, he's hooked. He goes to see Lotus every day, but that only makes him more and more unsatisfied. He's so troubled by his lust for her that he's even ignoring the land.
- This is the same guy who was going to sell his daughter so he could get back to the land. This is not good.
- Wang Lung cuts his hair, starts taking baths, and even buys new clothes. O-lan seems to notice that something is up, but she doesn't know what yet. She'll know soon enough.
- One day Wang Lung comes up to her and asks her for the pearls. She tells him that she wants to keep them, but Wang Lung wants them for you know who. This is when we know that things have gotten seriously bad, because O-lan cries.
- Wang Lung's uncle comes back to town and ruins his nephew's romantic fantasies. When he sees how rich Wang Lung is, the uncle decides to move on in. Not just him, but his wife and his son, too.
- Wang Lung can't do anything about it, because of filial piety. He gets so angry that he doesn't go to see Lotus for three whole days. But as soon as he's not angry anymore, he runs straight back to her.
- Now, remember we said that O-lan has no idea what's going on? Well, it doesn't take Wang Lung's aunt very long to figure it out, and she tells everybody.
- When Wang Lung's aunt tells O-lan that it's totally normal for men to take another wife, Wang Lung gets a bright idea: he'll just buy Lotus. How? Just trust Auntie; she'll take care of everything.
- But Wang Lung doesn't like waiting. He starts terrorizing everyone in the house, cleaning this and that, and building new rooms for his wife-to-be. Now that she knows what's going on, O-lan isn't doing so well, and she cries when Wang Lung bullies her. She has been a perfectly good wife, after all.
- Then the day finally comes. Cuckoo brings Lotus to Wang Lung, and she moves in with all of her stuff. Hooray? Wang Lung gets to be with Lotus all day, and Lotus gets to lie around all day doing nothing. It's a win-win situation, right?
- There are problems. O-lan hates Cuckoo. Wang Lung is surprised, because he expected her to hate Lotus. But what he didn't think about was that they both worked in the great house. From what we can gather, they weren't exactly the best of friends.
- Drama ensues, but even though he's ashamed, Wang Lung is too stubborn to change his mind about Cuckoo and Lotus. So, for the first time, O-lan stands up to him.
- Then there are other problems. For one thing, Cuckoo and Lotus are used to expensive food, so they spend Wang Lung's money like water. Also, Lotus and Wang Lung's aunt are a little friendlier than he would like them to be. He thinks that it doesn't reflect well on Lotus's character, since everyone knows that his aunt is a bad seed.
- Well, what does that tell you about Lotus? All of these things make Wang Lung love Lotus less and less. On top of that, one day Grandpa wakes up and notices that Lotus is there. He screams at her, "Harlot!"
- Just in case you thought we missed anyone, Lotus hates Wang Lung's kids, too. After she yells and calls them filthy, her spell over Wang Lung is broken, and he doesn't like her so much anymore.
- Of course, none of this matters once the flood has gone down. Then, as always, Wang Lung goes back to his land.
- The land makes everything better.
- Nothing bothers Wang Lung anymore, not even Lotus. He's too busy working on the land to worry about anything else. With all this farming that he's doing, it seems that everyone else has noticed that Wang Lung is a rich man. Not only that, but now he has these smart kids who can read.
- Around this time, Wang Lung notices that his firstborn son has become a man, and it's about time to get him a wife. The only thing is, he doesn't know where to get her, or who can help him. So it doesn't get done for a while. No problem, right?
- Well, all of a sudden, the older son starts going through his terrible teens. We guess emo has always existed, because he starts spending most of his days moping around the house and cutting class.
- Wang Lung doesn't get it, but O-lan does. She has seen it before. The problem? The oldest son is—how shall we say this?—horny. Yep. Horny.
- O-lan says that this "sickness" only affects young lords, but instead of being worried, Wang Lung is proud that he has a son who is like a young Lord. Then he knows where to go to fix this problem: to Lotus. Of course that's a good idea.
- Wang Lung asks Lotus about finding a wife for his first son, and she knows just the guy to ask: that grain dealer who stopped seeing her because she was a little bit too much like his daughter.
- Perfect. Before Wang Lung knows it, Lotus and Cuckoo are all ready to put the plan into action. But Wang Lung still drags his feet, and he probably would have taken forever to get it done if his older son hadn't come home late, vomiting, after seeing a prostitute one night.
- Things move pretty quickly after that. Wang Lung gets the prostitute to turn his son away, and he lets Cuckoo set up the engagement.
- Then Wang Lung starts wailing on his uncle, since it's his son that led Wang Lung's son to the prostitute. But it looks like the uncle has something up his sleeve: he's in a vicious, infamous, marauding gang. Well, that's just wonderful. All these years when other people were getting looted, it was Wang Lung's uncle who guaranteed his safety.
- It's all a little bit too much for Wang Lung, so he goes out into the farm for some therapy. But hey, what's that on the horizon? Oh, right: a plague of locusts. That's enough to take Wang Lung's mind off of his problems.
- Once the locusts are gone, everything is more or less back to normal.
- One day, Wang Lung's oldest son comes to say that he wants to go to the South. Wang Lung doesn't let him. Not only that: he also gets angry at all of the finery that his son has, even though that's exactly the thing that he's been proud of all this time.
- Suddenly the kid isn't emo anymore. Wang Lung thinks this is great, but we're a little suspicious. Everything calms down for a while, until O-lan reveals a secret. Their oldest son has been going to see Lotus, and she's not too happy about it.
- Wang Lung doesn't believe that at first, but he surprises his son and Lotus by coming back early from the field. This is probably the most violent scene in the whole novel, and you should probably read it just to see how angry Wang Lung can get.
- Wang Lung beats his son until he bleeds. When it is all over he tells him to pack his bags and go to the city.
- After all that drama with the older son, Wang Lung doesn't want any more troubles. So he starts thinking about his second son and decides to apprentice him to the father of his daughter-in-law-to-be. While he's there, he even gets his 10-year-old daughter engaged.
- Wang Lung finds out that O-lan's been saying that he didn't love her, because her feet were not bound, and he feels guilty. He starts thinking about O-lan for the first time in his life. He notices that she is sick—and that she has been sick for years.
- All of a sudden he calls for the doctor, who basically says it's too late now. When he realizes that O-lan is going to die Wang Lung cries for the first time in the novel. Didn't realize how good he had it, did he?
- For the first time, the family has learned to appreciate O-lan. Now that she's bedridden, everyone realizes that she's the one been keeping the house running, and no one else knows how to do it.
- Now that she is about to die, O-lan isn't so quiet anymore: she talks about her past, and we realize that she has always felt unloved, and her life has been very, very difficult.
- O-lan also tells Cuckoo how much she hates her to her face. She even says that she will curse Cuckoo and Lotus if they ever touch her things. She demands that her daughter-in-law come to help with the New Year celebrations.
- Then, finally, she demands that her son come home to get married and have children.
- Looks like it's time for a shotgun wedding. The oldest son hurries home, and Cuckoo and Lotus get the bride ready for a fancy rush wedding.
- When it is all over, O-lan reminds everyone that she is more awesome than Lotus, and then she dies. A few days later, Grandpa dies. The family goes into mourning, and they bury both O-lan and Grandpa on a lucky day.
- After everyone has left, Wang Lung stands by the graves alone. He cries because he should have been nicer to O-lan, and because he has buried the two people who have known him the longest.
- Marriages are over. Burials are over. Now it's time to get back to the land.
- It looks like it's going to flood again. Remember what happened last time? That's when Wang Lung bought Lotus. Well, this flood is much worse, and Wang Lung is too worried about his land being destroyed to have any free time.
- Hard times are here again. In the town, people are starving and gangs of robbers are killing people and taking their money. Wang Lung knows that his uncle is the only reason he is safe.
- The problem is that since his uncle's family knows that Wang Lung depends on them for safety, they start being even more greedy than usual. While everyone else is starving, they want fancy foods and even money.
- Wang Lung's first son doesn't even care about all this until he notices that his cousin has been looking at his wife. The solution? Opium. That will calm them down. Wang Lung isn't too sure about this, but when his uncle's son fondles his youngest daughter, he runs to buy some.
- Everything is going exactly according to plan: Wang Lung's greedy uncle is gobbling down the opium. Even better, Wang Lung is going to become a grandfather. Things are looking up.
- Not so fast: of course there's trouble. There has to be. This time, trouble comes from Wang Lung first son and his cousin.
- Apparently, the cousin has been looking at Wang Lung's daughter-in-law again, and his son is not too happy about it. Of course the way to fix this is to go live in the great house. Because that worked out so well for the last people who lived there, right?
- Wang Lung is really bad at remembering that he has children. He only notices that he has a second son when that son asks if moving to the House of Hwang is a good idea. After all, he's not even married yet.
- Now Wang Lung has to find a wife for his second son. First he has to go check out the House of Hwang. Things are different there. Instead of the fancy gatekeeper and fine furniture, the great house is filled with regular people—and quite frankly, it stinks.
- When Wang Lung gets to see the inner courts and remembers when he married O-lan, he can't help himself. He buys the place on the spot.
- It's time to move, but Wang Lung doesn't want to leave the land. Who can blame him? With his kids at home, there's always trouble. But now that they have moved, the house is peaceful again. His uncle's son even decides to leave and go to war. How lucky is that?
- Even though he was reluctant at first, Wang Lung starts spending more and more time in the great house since his grandson is about to be born. When the day comes, it's a bit different from when O-lan gave birth.
- We guess Wang Lung doesn't realize that giving birth in complete silence without anesthesia is not exactly normal. So, for the first time in a long time, Wang Lung goes to pray. After praying and waiting, there is good news: it's a boy!
- But when all the feasting, and celebrating, and the praying to gods is over, there are more problems. Suddenly, Ching is dying.
- This is where we realize that Ching is Wang Lung's only friend. Wang Lung's more upset about Ching dying than anyone else. Wang Lung even has his sons mourn for Ching as if he were family.
- Ching's death marks the end of Wang Lung's time in the old house. He picks up his first daughter and his younger son and moves permanently to the great house.
- You know what we're going to say: it looks like peace, but it's anything but peace.
- It's that first son again. He always wants something new. We bet he'd be one of those guys waiting in line for the new iPhone for like a month. Anyway, he wants Wang Lung to buy the outer courts.
- Wang Lung doesn't even care anymore, and he just tells his first son to do what he wants. So the first son kicks out all the poor people who are living in the outer courts. We have the feeling they won't forget this.
- At the same time, the second son isn't happy about all the money that his big brother is spending, so he gets Wang Lung to make him stop. Okay, so that's done. But now there's another thing.
- Do you remember that third son? Yeah, Wang Lung didn't remember him, either, but it seems like he's pretty unhappy. Apparently, he wants to learn how to read, and he doesn't want to be a farmer. Wang Lung isn't too happy about this, but he lets him learn anyway.
- The day finally comes for the second son to get married. He pinches every penny (who pinches pennies on their wedding day?), and his big brother gets pretty annoyed. So a feud between the brothers starts.
- The only person who isn't causing trouble in the new house is Wang Lung's baby grandson, so Wang Lung spends all his time with him. Soon enough Wang Lung has a whole bunch of grandkids to entertain him.
- With all these births, of course, there has to be a death. This time it's Wang Lung's uncle, and this uncle makes Wang Lung promise that his son will get married. When the uncle dies, the whole family mourns—not because they care, but because it's the right thing to do. Now all that's left of that family is Wang Lung's aunt.
- Remember that war Wang Lung's cousin went to join? Well, it looks like it made it's way to Wang Lung's hometown. At first Wang Lung's just curious because he's never seen a war before… but then he sees it. You've got to read this. It's like that scene in Lord of the Rings where the Orc army is streaming across Middle earth. Pretty scary.
- Wang Lung and company try to close the gates, but guess who is leading the army? Wang Lung's cousin. Wang Lung won't mind if he and his buddies crash there for a while, will he? Maybe a month, two months, maybe a year or two—who knows?
- Since they can't kick the army out, Wang Lung and his family hide the women. This doesn't work in the cousin's case, since as a family member, he gets to have free reign of the house.
- So the cousin goes around looking at all the women in the house until the men decide that he has to have a wife in order to protect the rest of the women.
- After a month and a half, it's time for the army to move on. Wang Lung's cousin leaves behind a wife, a child, and a totally messed-up great hall.
- After the army is gone, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.
- The family starts cleaning up and getting back to normal life. Now that they've had to live together, the first and second sons hate each other even more than they did before.
- Lotus and Wang Lung are fighting because she thinks he has a crush on her slave, Pear Blossom.
- Oh, and one more thing: Wang Lung's youngest son wants to go to war.
- When Wang Lung suggests that his youngest son choose one of the women in the house instead of going to war, the son chooses Pear Blossom… and Wang Lung gets jealous.
- Wang Lung starts thinking about Pear Blossom all of the time.
- At first Wang Lung tries to give Pear Blossom to his youngest son, but she refuses.
- In the end, Wang Lung gives in and sleeps with Pear Blossom. You can guess all the problems this causes. First, Lotus is angry. Then, Wang Lung has to explain the whole thing to his sons.
- It actually goes better than Wang Lung expects, except in the case of the youngest son.
- The youngest son gets angry. Also, he apparently has some mad ninja skills.
- The youngest son appears out of nowhere and scares the wits out of Wang Lung and Pear Blossom. He tells them that he is going to be a soldier—and then disappears.
- Wang Lung had been sort of proud that he could still be a player when he was nearly 70, but after his third son's reaction, he's not quite so proud anymore.
- Wang Lung's love affair with Pear Blossom comes to an end. He becomes more like a father to her, and he trusts her more than anyone. He even asks her to take care of his first daughter.
- After a while, Wang Lung wonders why his first daughter hates guys so much, and based on her answer, we're going to guess that being a pretty girl in a great house leads to a lot of sexual abuse.
- Suddenly, Wang Lung realizes he is crazy old. His grandkids are tall: they're not babies anymore. They even laugh at him because he doesn't know what's hip and happening with the kids.
- Wang Lung realizes that he's going to die soon, so he gets a coffin ready and moves back to the land.
- Wang Lung doesn't really pay attention to anything after that; he just tries to live his days in peace. There is just one moment that he remembers.
- One day, Wang Lung notices that his sons have come to the land, and they don't know he's watching them.
- Wang Lung's sons start talking about selling the land, and Wang Lung flips his lid. That makes sense, since every time they have moved away from the land, bad stuff has happened. The novel ends with the sons promising not to sell the land… but smiling at one another as if they have their fingers crossed.
- You know how this will go, don't you?