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CHAPTER 17

Wang Lung's lands are now too broad for him to farm alone. He buys Ching's small property and takes Ching to live with his family and work with him. At harvest time he hires farm laborers and makes Ching his overseer. Wang builds a second house behind the first, leaving the old farmhouse to Ching and the farm workers. He sets himself the goal of laying up enough stores in the good years to survive any future years of drought and flood.

Although he no longer allows O-lan to work in the field, he takes his two sons out with him, hoping to inspire them with his own love of the land. When Wang fails in this, and when his own illiteracy becomes embarrassing because he must sign contracts he can't read, he enrolls the two boys in a school in the town. The old teacher gives the boys school names suitable to their father's calling-Nung En and Nung Wen. "Nung" means that the family's wealth is from the earth. Is this wealth from the earth as you see it? How was Wang able to buy all this land?

NOTE:

You can make an interesting list of what constitutes prosperity to a typical Chinese farmer like Wang Lung: a new house with a tiled roof instead of a thatched one and whitewash on the earthen walls, a separate storeroom for his crops, farm laborers and an overseer, pigs and fowl in the farmyard to provide meat for his table, and not the least, two sons in school.

O-lan has given birth to twins-"an egg with a double yolk," Wang's old father jokes. Wang now has five children, three boys and two girls. His elder daughter hasn't learned to talk or do the things appropriate to her age, and he knows now that she suffered permanent damage in her development during the famine. He calls her his "poor little fool" and remembers how close he came to selling her. If he had, he realizes now, her owners would have killed her as useless.


NOTE:

Pearl Buck's sympathetic portrait of the relationship between Wang and his retarded daughter stems in no small part from the fact that her daughter Carol was retarded. The author devoted much effort to helping the mentally retarded. In the book, Wang is the only one who cares about the little girl. Given what you already know about traditional Chinese attitudes toward female children as drains on the family's food supply, is it likely in reality that Wang would have such fondness for her? Is this just the author's feelings coming through or is Wang's personality consistent with this devotion?

Wang himself rarely works on the land now, having others to do the work and being busy with the commerce of selling his crops. O-lan has had a hard birth this time, with twins. Is it possible that she has pushed her self-reliance too far, that having no help with the birth was unwise? Would you agree with those who say her insistence on doing it all by herself was not strength but stubbornness? What do you make of this aspect of O-lan's character?

CHAPTER 18

It is the seventh year of Wang Lung's prosperity, and disaster has again come to the region. This time it is a flood, with two-fifths of the land lying under water through the spring and summer. Many houses have been washed away and hunger is widespread, but Wang Lung's houses are safe on their hill and his storerooms are still full. He puts his hired laborers to work mending roofs, repairing implements, doing tasks he would be doing when field work was not possible. Now he finds himself idle and restless.

In the following chapters, you will begin to see how this idleness leads Wang even farther away from his origins and from his early happiness as a farmer, husband, and father.

NOTE:

Pearl Buck may be recalling a part of her upbringing in a missionaries' household when she gives Wang seven years of prosperity. In the Old Testament, Joseph-Pharaoh's slave-interprets his master's dream as a prophecy of seven prosperous years followed by seven "lean" ones.

For the first time since he brought her home as a bride, Wang Lung looks at O-lan as a woman and sees that she has not cared for her appearance. When he rebukes her for this, she confesses that she has not been well since the birth of the twins. She sees him looking at her feet and she hides them under the bench, saying that she will bind their younger daughter's feet. The more humbly she answers him, the more ashamed he is at reproaching her and the angrier he becomes that she does not answer him with anger. How do you think she should have answered him? Is there anything she can say or do to change the way he feels toward her now?

Disgusted with her and himself, Wang rushes out to the tea shop. But the old tea shop now seems dingy, and he goes to a new tea shop, which is also a gambling den and brothel. Here he finds Cuckoo, formerly Hwang's slave, who is now hostess. She taunts him for drinking tea when he could drink wine, play at dice, enjoy the pretty women upstairs. She shows him the women's pictures on scrolls hanging on the tea shop walls. They are not dream women, as he thought, but real, and he may choose any one he likes. A slender one with a pretty face and a lotus bud in her hand attracts him, and he leaves excited but without pursuing his desire.

NOTE:

Some readers find it hard to believe that Wang Lung can be so ignorant about prostitution, especially after his experience as a riksha puller in the city. Do you agree with them? Or do you think that what he displays is not ignorance but inexperience in this unfamiliar world of sexual pleasure for sale?

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