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The Good Earth: Novel Summary: Chapter 17-19

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Chapter 17-19

Wang builds another room in his house, buys Ching's land and invites Ching to live with him and help him. At harvest time he also hires laborers to help. Then he builds another room in the house to store the harvest. He also buys three pigs and a flock of fowl to feed on the grain spilled from the harvests.
O-lan gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl.
The only blot on Wang Lung's happiness is that his first daughter is mentally retarded and never learns to speak.
Wang Lung is determined to build up his fortunes so if famine should come again to the area, he will be secure. He is fortunate in that there are seven years of good harvests. He hires more men, and builds another house behind his old one, where he lives with his family, leaving the old house to Ching and the laborers.
Wang Lung now works little in the fields, his time being taken up by marketing his produce and directing his workmen. He is hampered in his business dealings by the fact that he cannot read or write, and the clerks in the town make fun of him because he is illiterate. He decides to send his eldest son to school, so he can learn to read and write. Then when Wang Lung goes to the grain markets, he can take his son, who will read and write for him and so spare him embarrassment. His younger son also clamors to be sent to school, and Wang Lung agrees to his request. Wang Lung is proud of his sons as he takes them to the school.
In the seventh year, there is a flood, and two-fifths of Wang Lung's land is under water. He is not afraid, however, because his store-rooms are filled with the harvests to the last two years, and he is a wealthy man.
In the house with nothing to do, since he cannot work on the flooded land, Wang Lung becomes restless. He speaks reproachfully to his wife, telling her she is unattractive, and requesting that she take more trouble with her appearance. Now that he is wealthy, he is not as happy as he formerly was. He is aware of the higher social status that he now enjoys, and thinks that the tea shop in the town that he has patronized for years is no longer good enough for him. Instead, he goes to a new, much bigger tea shop, where men also drink wine and play dice. Wang Lung sits at a table and stares at the pictures of women that are painted on scrolls that hang on the walls. The tea shop has an upper floor, from which at night, Wang Lung hears women's voices singing and laughing.
One night a woman he recognizes as Cuckoo persuades him to choose the woman whose picture he likes best, and she will, for the price of some silver, arrange for her to come to him. After Cuckoo leaves him to think about it, Wang Lung picks out the picture of a slender woman whom he finds very attractive. That night he takes it no further, but the fire of lust has started to burn in him. He soon returns to the tea shop, without telling O-lan where he is going. He pays Cuckoo with a handful of silver, and she shows him to the room of the slender woman, whose name is Lotus. Wang Lung is captivated by Lotus. He returns to the tea shop every day to visit her in the evenings, and make love to her, not returning home until dawn. All summer long he is infatuated and obsessed by her. Completely under her spell, he does anything she asks him to. At home, he is irritable with his family, and begins to behave in ways they do not understand. He buys sweet-smelling soap, and washes himself every day. He also gets new fashionable clothes, made especially for him by the tailor in town, and a silver ring. No one in his house knows what to make of all this, since they know nothing of Lotus. He also buys Lotus expensive gifts. One day, he demands that O-lan give him the two pearls that she still possesses. He takes them and gives them to Lotus.
These chapters might be entitled, The Perils of Wealth. For some years, Wang Lung is happy in his new-found prosperity, and he shows himself to be a good employer who treats his workers fairly. But the wealth also makes him dissatisfied. He knows he is no longer the country fellow who smells of the farm, and begins to get a little full of himself about his new social status. He criticizes his loyal wife, for example, with the following words: "Now anyone looking at you would say you were the wife of a common fellow and never of one who has land which he hires men to plough!" (p. 145). He thinks that because he has wealth, he deserves better, and he allows himself to behave cruelly to his sick wife because of it, even though he secretly feels ashamed of his behavior.
But it is Wang Lung's infatuation with Lotus that is his real undoing. Since he has no experience with women other than the plain O-lan, he soon falls hopelessly under the spell of Lotus. Although he doesn't realize it, he is losing the traditional values he adhered to for so long, such as the careful husbanding of his resources. Now he spends money freely on trivial things, which he never did before.
A key incident takes place when he has the braids of his hair cut off, just because Lotus laughs at him about his unfashionable look. In the very first chapter of the novel, Wang Lung had told the barber in the city, who had wanted to cut his braids off, that he could never do such a thing without getting permission from his father. Now, he does it at the whim of a woman.
Another ominous note is struck when O-lan tells him that he reminds her of the young lords in the House of Hwang when she was a slave there. It is the young lords, of course, who lost their connection to the land, which led to the fall of the House. It is a sign of Wang Lung's temporary blindness that he takes O-lan's remark as a compliment.


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