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In this chapter, Wang Lung begins to learn about the new city where he lives. He sees great differences here from his native city in the language, style of living, dress, behavior, and working conditions. He hears talk about a revolution. He meets a female foreigner and is frightened of her because he has never seen a human being with light eyes and hair. The greatest difference, however, is that he sees food everywhere. It seems like a land of riches, yet with all Wang's hard work and the begging of O-Lan and the children, they cannot make enough money to exist. O-Lan even allows her children to steal. She has no pretenses, because she knows that "Meat is meat." When Wang learns that the meat is stolen, he cannot eat it; he also beats his second son for the theft. Ironically, in the very near future, Wang himself will resort to stealing. But Wang truly abhors their existence and thinks to himself, "We must get back to the land".
There are sharp contrasts between Wang's native land and this southern city, and Wang feels like an alien here. He is very uncomfortable that his family has to resort to begging and stealing to exist. He is also uncomfortable with the talk of a revolution that he constantly hears in the streets. Wang is frightened that he is going to lose his children to this city; he desperately wants to return to the sanctity of his land, the good earth.
In this chapter the contrast between the rich and the poor is developed. Wang Lung sees the wealthy enjoying their lives, while the poor eke out a living by doing hard labor. He longs to return to his land, and his father tells him that day will surely come. The resourceful O-Lan says that to get money to return home they could sell their daughter as a slave, but Wang Lung refuses; he is fond of his "little fool" and knows she is incapable of existing on her own. She has not developed well due to the deprivation she has endured and she still does not know how to speak.
One night, while in his mat hut, Wang bitterly bemoans his fate. A man from the adjoining hut replies that there are ways to become rich. Wang does not question the man, but he begins to think of possibilities.
Wang Lung's desire to return to his land is heart-rending, and so is O-Lan's solution to it. The thought of selling their only daughter seems criminal, but considering their dire straits, it is understandable, especially since the Chinese culture places little value on females. Fortunately, Wang, although longing to return to his native earth, refuses O-Lan's' offer. He is attached to his daughter and devoted to his family.
When Wang reveals his utter dejection over his poverty, his neighbor tells him that there are solutions, hinting at a revolution. He tells Wang, "When the rich are too rich there are ways, and when the poor are too poor, there are ways." He is amazed at the news that on the other side of the wall, even the servants live in the lap of luxury.