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CHAPTER 2

Wang Lung wakes to the brand new luxury of lying in bed while his wife lights the fire, heats the water, and brings him and his father steaming bowls of water. She has pleased him in their first night together, and he would like to know whether he pleases her. She puts no tea leaves in the old man's bowl but there is tea in Wang's. O-lan is afraid, for she has done this on her own. But Wang is pleased-it is a sign that she likes him.

O-lan takes over her household duties and the care of Wang's father. In addition, she gathers, without being asked, fuel from the roadside and manure at the crossroads and comes to hoe beside Wang in the field. In due course she becomes pregnant. --

NOTE:

In China it was the rule that when a woman married she left her family, or as in O-lan's case her owners, to reside in the household of her husband's family. If Wang's mother were alive, O-lan would be subservient to her as well as to her father-in-law and husband. One of the reasons that having a son was so crucial for a Chinese family was that it promised one would eventually have the service of a daughter-in-law.


By following O-lan through her duties you learn what the life of a peasant woman was like in traditional China, and you learn much about O-lan as well. The way she goes about her work and does what needs to be done without being told indicates that she is happy in her new life. She takes pride in her new household and wants it to run smoothly. Yet she doesn't talk. Wang Lung would like to know more of her past, but, according to Chinese custom, it would not be proper for a man to show much curiosity about his wife.

You see a strong bond growing between Wang Lung and O-lan. Working beside her in the field, Wang falls into a rhythm of movement with her so that through the hours he doesn't feel the long, back-breaking labor. The paragraph describing the two of them working in harmony along the furrows of growing wheat is worth reading with care. It suggests the blend of pain and joy in their joint effort to make the earth productive and also the fatalism of their life close to the soil.

At the end of the chapter comes O-lan's announcement that she is pregnant. Wang is deeply moved-astonishingly, he has helped to create life.

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