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CHAPTER 19

With nothing new at home to distract him, Wang Lung goes again to the tea shop, and this time Cuckoo takes him upstairs to Lotus Flower. Cuckoo calls her "the little pink-faced dwarf from Soochow," but to Wang she is pure enchantment. She introduces him to sophisticated lovemaking.

Wang Lung now spends his days waiting for his nights with Lotus. No matter how much time he spends with her, he remains unsatisfied. O-lan and his children are silent around him, and his old father asks him what sickness he has that makes him bad-tempered and turns his skin so yellow (pale).

Wang begins bathing every day with scented soap. He has the barber cut off the long old-fashioned braid that you saw in Chapter 1 and he uses perfumed oil on his hair. He gives up the farmhouse smell of garlic. He has the town tailor make him fine clothes, and he buys his first store-bought shoes. He reminds O-lan of the sons of Hwang in the Great House. He is flattered. The comparison with the Hwang family is yet another reminder of what may be in store for him.

He is spending money wildly, for his hours with Lotus and for expensive gifts that she coaxes out of him. Finally he demands O-lan's two small pearls, the only things of value she has asked to keep. Although she has cherished them, she gives them up without a word. When Wang has gone, her tears fall unchecked on his clothes that she is washing. Wang Lung is close to ruining himself in his infatuation with Lotus. O-lan does not protest although he is spending the silver stored in its hiding place. She is afraid of the anger that he turns on her constantly. His demand for the pearls leaves her heartbroken, yet she submits. This break with O-lan is the second of Wang's breaks with his past-the first was when he stopped working the land. In the next chapter another blow to his family life will arrive in the form of his uncle's evil family.

CHAPTER 20

Suddenly Wang's uncle reappears and brings his wife and son to live in Wang's house. As a nephew, Wang can't refuse to take them in, but he burns with rage.


The wife of Wang Lung's uncle reads the signs that O-lan failed to understand. One woman who has worn herself out for him is not enough for a man, and if he has money he will buy himself a second woman. The uncle's wife will help Wang buy Lotus from the House of Flowers.

NOTE:

A concubine in Chinese society was a recognized second wife whose principal function was to serve her master sexually. Concubinage was an ancient custom in China, dating from the time of Confucius (about the sixth century
B.C.) and it existed in various forms in other societies. A concubine might be a slave already in the man's household or one that he bought from a tea house, as Wang Lung bought Lotus Flower. A concubine lived in her own quarters and had no household duties. To have a concubine was evidence of wealth and brought a man respect and status in the community.

Wang has a cluster of new rooms added to his house, around a courtyard with a goldfish pond. But he is impatient. He scolds O-lan for not brushing her hair. To his astonishment she bursts into tears, something she has never done before in his presence. "I have borne you sons," she speaks out. Isn't this a Chinese wife's ultimate vindication? Notice that she makes no reference to his cruel behavior. He is again ashamed of his desire for Lotus.

At last the wife of Wang's uncle has made the deal: silver for the tea-house master, jewels and silks for Lotus, something for herself. Lotus arrives in a sedan chair and totters on her useless bound feet into her apartment. Cuckoo comes along as her servant.

O-lan deals with this situation by staying away with her children the entire day. At evening she returns, prepares the meal, eats with the children, then washes and goes to bed alone in the room she has shared with Wang Lung these many years. Wang goes to Lotus.

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