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Wang Lung is depressed. His new land is more than a third of a mile from his farmhouse, a long walk to and from the day's work there. (It may not cheer him to remember that O-lan predicted this.) He misses the comfort of having silver hidden in the wall. And he bought the land, not from the Old Lord, who was still sleeping although it was noon, but from the oily agent, thus missing all the glory of dealing with the head of the House of Hwang. It hurt him when the agent said that the silver that meant so much to Wang would buy a few days' opium for the Old Mistress. To Wang Lung the difference between him and the Great House seems as high as the city wall and as wide as the moat.
Spring comes with rain and wind, and Wang and O-lan toil in the fields from dawn to dark. She is pregnant again and Wang is cross with her. The birth will come at harvest when he will need her help. She says this birth will be nothing-only the first is hard.
As she predicts, she gives birth in the morning and is back beside him by afternoon, gathering the sheaves. He would like to send her home to rest, but his weariness makes him unkind and he only asks about the child's sex. It is a boy.
Again the harvest is good. All the village now knows that Wang Lung is prospering.
Wang Lung is not always a gentle, considerate husband. When he is overworked he can be rough. On this day he has not even stopped at midday to rest and eat because a thunderstorm threatens and the harvest must be cut and bound before the storm. He sees that O-lan is tired when she comes back to the field after giving birth. But he thinks he has suffered as much this day with his toil as she has with her childbirth.
Do you think O-lan carries her courage and independence too far? Would she get more kindness from Wang Lung if she showed a little weakness? You might think that she could just as well have stayed in the house and rested, instead of venturing out again to help him.
Would you say that Pearl Buck is telling you something further about O-lan? Might she want you to see that O-lan cares as much as Wang about their land, their harvest, and their prosperity, that she is willing, as he is, to work to exhaustion in their joint effort to rise from poverty?
In the next chapter Buck offers a contrast between O-lan and a different kind of farmer's wife, the wife of Wang's uncle.
Wang Lung is disgusted with the way his uncle's children run wild in the village street. He meets the eldest, a girl of fifteen, her hair uncombed, talking immodestly with men. Wang goes to the girl's mother and protests.
The uncle's wife is too lazy to sweep her floor but she has a lively tongue. It's all very well, she says, for those who have too much land and money to buy still more. But her husband has an evil destiny. For him nothing grows but weeds. Then the uncle himself comes to Wang to complain of his bad luck. He scolds Wang for criticizing him and threatens to spread it through the village that Wang has been disrespectful. In the end Wang gives him money, supposedly for a matchmaker to find a husband for the uncle's eldest girl, but as Wang knows, really for his uncle to gamble away.
Meanwhile O-lan has given birth again, to a daughter this time. Back in his field, Wang sees a flight of crows, an evil omen.
The scenes with the uncle and the uncle's wife could be comedy but it would be dark comedy. You may know people like them, who blame bad luck for all their troubles. You are forewarned that in time this uncle and his family will create even bigger problems for Wang. Meanwhile the omens multiply. A girl is born: "Only a slave this time-not worth mentioning," says O-lan. When Wang tells her he has lent money to his uncle, she says, "It is better not to say lend," because she knows it will never be repaid.
Consider the matter of the evil omens. Do you think Wang may have seen flights of crows on other occasions and never noticed them? This time, however, he has already had the encounter with his uncle, which cost him money, and the birth of a daughter, which in Chinese eyes is a misfortune, so perhaps he is ready to see evil omens everywhere.