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With the eldest son gone, Wang looks at his other children. He negotiates with the grain merchant to make his second son his apprentice. He also negotiates a future marriage for his second daughter, who is only ten years old. After all this, he looks at his wife and realizes that she is very ill with a strange swelling in her stomach. When the doctor is called, he says that O-Lan cannot be treated, for there is no guarantee for her recovery. Wang Lung weeps for his wife, who has virtually killed herself for the family.
In this chapter, Wang Lung is refocused and taking care of the important things in his life. He tries to make plans for his children. First he finds an appropriate apprenticeship for this second son, not wanting him to turn out idle and melancholy like the eldest son. He also negotiates a future marriage for his daughter, who he knows is very beautiful. Wang feels she has been made even more beautiful since O-Lan has bound her feet.
The foot binding causes the daughter much pain. O-Lan explains to her why her feet must be bound. She reveals to her daughter that Wang would have loved her more if her feet were bound. O-Lan wants to make sure that her daughter's husband will love her and appreciate her delicate feet. The daughter tells Wang about the conversation with her mother. The words affect Wang, and he looks at O-Lan's needs for the first time in a long time. His concern, however, comes too late, for his wife is already dying.
Through Chinese tradition, a doctor is paid a certain fee to keep his patient alive and well. If after the payment, the patient dies, the doctor can be lawfully penalized. As a result, if the doctor thinks he cannot cure the patient, he refuses to help at all. If the doctor thinks he can help, he will extol a high price to heal the patient. With O-Lan's condition, the doctor feels he cannot do anything to help her; by asking a very high price to work with her, he is saying that the patient cannot be cured.
At the end of the chapter, Wang is presented in a very sympathetic light. In spite of his ill treatment of O-Lan, he reveals his true emotion for her. When he realizes that she cannot be healed, he goes into the dark kitchen "Where O-Lan had lived her life for the most part." He turns his face "to the darkened wall, and he wept."