“It was Wang Lung’s marriage day. At first, opening his eyes in the blackness of the curtain around his bed, he could not think why the dawn seemed different from any other.” His future wife, O-Lan was twenty years old and had lived as a slave, since she was ten years old, with the family of wealthy landowners who lived in the House of Hwang, nearby.
His father advised him to not get a pretty bride and O-Lin was plain in appearance, quiet, obedient and seemed to know her duties. Wang’s fortunes changed with his marriage. His wife worked hard to keep the house, help and care for his old father, and still joined him in the fields each day. When their first child was born O-Lin delivered the baby herself and still went back to the fields to work. They slowly, through their hard work, earned enough money to be able to save some, and they bought some land from the Hwang family. Wang owned his own small farm and then he had a larger and better parcel to add. The Hwang family standing was declining, with excessive spending and the matron of he house’s expensive opium use.
O-Lan and Wang eventually had three sons and three daughters. After several good years a drought comes and with no food or backup they were near death. A hateful Uncle tries to get Wang to sell his land to some men he knows. It is O-Lan that helps Wang resolve to not sell the land, but instead their processions to get a little money to help them leave and go South to a large city. A train takes them 100 miles south, using the money they have, and they arrive in a large city. The family learns how to survive with the help of his wife O-Lan who had begged on the street as a child with her family in a similar city until they were forced to sell her as a slave when she was 10 years old.
Wang and the family begged for food and money and worked hard but ever being able to return to their land seemed like it would never happen. They considered selling their daughter to get money to go back and just to live. While struggling with that they delivered another child, a girl. O-Lin knew they would not make it with another mouth to feed and she kills the young baby girl at birth.
A mob comes to a rich man’s house near where Wang Lung’s family lives and he finds himself swept u into the mob who is looting a rich man's house. He confronts a man who, fearing for his life, gives him all his money and O-Lan finds jewels in a hiding place she discovers in the inside of the wall of the house.
They use the money to go home. They buy an Ox and seed and when they get home they buy the Hwang’s land. Over a few years they become rich and Wang has idle time. He has hired people to do the work. A woman in a tea house in town captures his lust and he buys her as a second wife. Living in the home of O-Lan is hard. The new wife talks Wang into buying a servant for her.
Eventually they rent the Hwang home and move in. O-Lan eventually dies but she was able to see her first son married first. Wang Lung had lost much of the lust he had for his second wife and with O-Lan dying he sees clearly what her real place in his life had been.
It seems clear that the only two things that distinguish Wang Lung’s life is his love of his land and the help and focus that O-Lin brought to his life. His first and second sons had been educated and had not done much manual work in their later youth. Wang’s love of the land faces a challenge at the end that will not be overcome. His sons are talking of selling the land when he is gone, and he tells them passionately not to do that. They tell him they will do as they ask, but smile knowingly at each other behind his back.
Quotes by Pearl S. Buck
"Love cannot be forced, love cannot be coaxed and teased. It comes out of heaven, unasked and unsought."
“And roots, if they are to bear fruits, must be kept well in the soil of the land.”
“It is the end of a family — when they begin to sell their land. Out of the land we came and into we must go — and if you will hold your land you can live — no one can rob you of land