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CHAPTER 26

O-lan's illness lasts through the winter. Wang Lung stays away from Lotus and sits continually at O-lan's bedside, watching over her even though he feels no real tenderness for her.

Meanwhile, the household falls into disorder. Wang Lung realizes how much work O-lan did without complaint, how much comfort she brought to them all, how competent and caring she was. Again it is O-lan, in a conscious interlude, who solves the family's problem: she asks that her future daughter-in-law be brought to the house to take charge.

O-lan has Cuckoo summoned and she speaks her mind to this woman who once lorded over her. O-lan asks to see her son married before she dies, and Wang Lung sends for him. He is now fully grown, tall and well built, and Wang Lung is proud of him. He is cheerful with his mother although his eyes fill with tears.


Cuckoo, Lotus, and the uncle's wife prepare the bride for her wedding, and Wang Lung gives a large feast. At O-lan's request, the pair eat their rice and drink their wine at her bedside, and she has her door kept open so that she can hear the sounds of the wedding feast. She instructs the bridal couple in their duties to their father, their grandfather, the poor retarded daughter, "and no other," a pointed reference to Lotus. Later, half conscious, she reminds Wang Lung of a wife's true role when she murmurs, "And if I am ugly, still I have borne a son," and again she reproaches him with a reminder that "beauty will not bear a man sons!" With Wang Lung beside her she dies.

NOTE:

Murmuring on her deathbed, O-lan tells us more of her life than she ever did when she was well. You can figure out her age: she was twenty when she became Wang's wife and her son, born during her first year of marriage, was eighteen when he left home and may be nineteen or twenty when he returns. Considering her hard life as a child slave and then a farm wife, it is perhaps not surprising that she should be no more than forty years old when she dies.

To emphasize the change in Wang Lung's life, his aged father dies soon after. Walking home from the joint burial, he wishes he had not taken those two pearls from O-lan to give to Lotus. He thinks that with O-lan's burial he has buried half his life. Alone where no one sees him, he weeps. Wang Lung has unhappy feelings about the room he shared with O-lan through the good years of their marriage, so he gives that room to the newlyweds and moves to Lotus' quarters.

Thus, without two of the central figures of his old family, he begins the second half of his life.

NOTE:

You are present at two ritual events in this chapter, a wedding and a funeral, and you witness both in detail. One such detail, and part of the traditional religious lore, is Wang's consultation with a local wise man, called a geomancer, to determine a lucky day for the burials. How important is ritual in the novel? What do you think its function is in Chinese society?

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