The Good Earth, Chapters 20-28
Welcome back, y’all! Another week of The Good Earth discussion, and we’re heading into the downward spiral, as it were. Looking back over the chapters, I guess it’s time to bring Wang Lung’s uncle, and his miserable family, center stage! How did you feel when Wang Lung’s uncle showed up at the door in Chapter 20 and the incorporation of his wife and son into the mix of Wang Lung’s house? His wife sure can’t keep her mouth shut, eh? This portion really tugged at my heart-strings for O-Lan:
There came a broken sound from O-Lan, what it was she said he could not hear, but his uncle’s wife said again,
And it is not to be thought, poor fool,that one woman is enough for any man, and if it is a wear hard-working woman who has worn away her flesh working for him, it is less than enough for him. His fancy runs elsewhere the more quickly, and you, poor fool, have never been fit for a man’s fancy and little better than an ox for his labor. And it is not for you to repine when he has money and buys himself another to bring her to his house, for all men are so, and would my old do-nothing also, except the poor wretch has never had enough silver in his life to feed himself even.
Ugg! What a sad, frustrating sort of solidarity. The uncle’s wife knows her husband would’ve done the same, but he’s basically worthless and poor. Yay!
Another character who takes center stage in this novel is Cuckoo–and what a fitting name! How do you feel about her role in the novel along with Lotus? Wang Lung was surprised that O-Lan’s frustrations came out against Cuckoo as opposed to Lotus, though with Cuckoo’s mouth and demeanor, I can’t say I was terribly surprised. With all these dueling personalities in the house, there was likely to be some cattiness and flared tempers.
I was very proud of Wang Lung for standing up for his “fool” daughter in the face of Lotus’s anger. She was offended by the child and Wang Lung said, “Now I will not hear my children cursed, no and not by any one and not even my poor fool, and now by you who have no son in your womb for any man.”
Sadly, in this section of the book, O-Lan , as well as Wang Lung’s father, meet their end. O-Lan remained unsung, and I think it’s obvious that Wang Lung struggled with her death. I was disappointed that he couldn’t seem to figure himself out! He can’t just mourn for her at first. He busies himself with preparations and rents a space for her coffin until the day of burial. When his father passes, though, he finds comfort in being near the coffin. Finally, on the day of burial he does inwardly chide himself for taking O-Lan’s pearls and thinks, “There in that land of mine is buried the first good half of my life and more. It is as though half of me were buried there, and now it is a different life in my house.”
I think it’s obvious from the way this section ends in Chapter 28 that things are on a downward slope. Ching predicts floods and the land literally holds the best parts of Wang Lung’s life. Where do you think we’re going? Will it be a tragedy or will the land save our anti-hero?