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In this chapter, the misfortune that Wang has feared in the last chapter begins to happen. The rains do not come on time, and the water in the pond dries up. Only the land purchased from the Hwangs can be harvested. In spite of the limited harvest, Wang is still able to save a little money, which he plans to use for the purchase of more land.
The house of Hwang is now on the verge of poverty. The old Mistress is addicted to opium, the old Lord has an insatiable lust for young girls, and their sons run wild. The family is in desperate need of money, so Wang Lung easily buys more land from them. This time, he tells no one of his purchase.
The rain still does not come, and food is running low in the house of Wang. When their hunger becomes intolerable, Wang Lung decides his only option is to kill his ox and eat it. He does not have the stamina to kill the animal himself, so O-Lan kills it and cooks it. Ironically, Wang is unable to eat the meat.
The villagers grow hostile toward Wang, because they think he has silver and food hoarded away. Wang's Uncle comes to him and begs for food; due to tradition, Wang feels obliged to part with some precious morsels. When his uncle comes begging for food a second time, Wang sends his uncle away empty handed. In retaliation, the uncle spreads the rumor that his nephew has money and food but will not share with his relatives. As a result of this rumor, the villagers come to Wang Lung's house one night and break in. When they search the house, they are disappointed to find no food and nothing of real value. When they try to steal the furniture, O-Lan stops them with her firm words and makes them feel ashamed. Wang is thankful that his riches are tied to the land, which the villagers cannot steal. He also consoles himself that at least he has his hands to produce more riches from the good earth.
The whole village is plagued with the drought. Since there is no food, people are starving and grow irrational. Even Wang and his family go through their food supplies and grow hungry. Despite their miserable conditions, Wang has no thought of selling his land; it is too precious to him. In fact, in the midst of the drought, he purchases more land from the Hwangs.
To keep the family from starving, O-Lan kills the ox and cooks it for food. Wang's Uncle comes begging for food, and Wang feels obliged to share with him. When he comes a second time, Wang sends him away. As a result, the Uncle spreads the rumor that Wang has lots of money and food hidden away. The villagers believe him, break into Wang's house, search for food and riches, and find nothing. O-Lan, as usual, saves the situation from total disaster; her simple and quiet words calm the plunderers and remind them that they are doing wrong. Slowly, they drift away. Ching, their neighbor who later becomes their most trusted friend, slinks away, clutching the little bit of food that he has found.
It is important to note the changing roles of the Wangs and the Hwangs that are portrayed in the chapter. The old great house has fallen deeply into trouble. As a result, Wang can easily purchase more land from them. Their roles have totally reversed, with the Hwangs now living in poverty and Wang now becoming a prosperous landowner. Pearl Buck is saying that this role reversal is caused by the basic natures of the characters. The Hwangs have been lazy, proud, and opulent, wasting their money on all the wrong things; they have received their just reward. In contrast, the Wangs have been humble, hard working, resourceful, and frugal saving every cent to purchase land; they also have received their just rewards.