The Good Earth: Novel Summary: Chapter 23-25
Wang Lung still searches for a wife for his son. Lotus and Cuckoo inform him of a wealthy and generous grain dealer named Liu, who has a young daughter. Cuckoo offers to negotiate a match, but Wang Lung wants to think things over for a while.
One day, at dawn, the eldest son returns home drunk. It transpires that he has visited a well-known prostitute with the son of Wang Lung's uncle, who is older and more experienced than he. Angry, Wang Lung goes to the prostitute. He tells her that if his son comes to her again, he, Wang Lung, will pay her twice her usual fee if she will put him off and send him away. She readily agrees to this arrangement.
When he comes home, Wang Lung tells Cuckoo to go ahead and make the match between his eldest son and the daughter of Liu.
Wang Lung then confronts his uncle about the bad influence of Wang Lung's nephew over his eldest son. He also becomes angry with his uncle because of the many ways his uncle takes advantage of Wang Lung's hospitality. He orders the uncle to leave his house and take his family with him. But his uncle reveals in the lining of his jacket a false red beard and a length of red cloth, which tells Wang Lung that he is a member of a feared gang of robbers that has been terrorizing people in the northwest. Wang Lung realizes that he can do nothing to evict his uncle; he must be courteous to him, for fear that his uncle would bring down the robber gang on his house.
Cuckoo brings news that Liu has decided that his daughter, who is fourteen, must wait three more years before she marries Wang Lung's son. Wang Lung is distressed at the prospect of such a long wait.
That year a plague of locusts comes and destroys the villagers' crops. Wang Lung is fortunate, because the best of his fields are spared, and he can still reap wheat, and his rice field is spared too. The plague of locusts also helps to take Wang Lung's mind off his other troubles, with his son and his uncle.
Wang Lung's son, who is now nearly eighteen, expresses a desire to study in one of the great schools in the south, so he can become learned. Wang Lung angrily refuses to give permission, and the son seems to accept his decision. Wang Lung assumes that the boy is content. But one day, O-lan informs him that his son has been visiting Lotus. She advises her husband to send him away to the south, as he originally requested. At first, Wang Lung does not believe what O-lan says. He assumes that she is just jealous of Lotus. But he soon becomes suspicious, and takes O-lan's advice to go one night unexpectedly to Lotus's court. There he hears the voice of his son. Furious, he gets some bamboo sticks, bursts in on the two of them, and beats his son bloody. Then he sends him to his room. When the boy is gone, Wang Lung accuses Lotus, but she claims that Wang Lung's son came only to talk, and had never been in his bed.
Wang Lung tells his son to pack his things and go south the following day.
Wang Lung then decides to take his second son out of school and apprentice him in the grain market. He goes to visit the merchant Liu, who agrees to take his son on as an apprentice. Liu and Wang Lung also agree that Liu's ten-year-old son will be betrothed to Wang Lung's nine-year-old daughter.
Wang Lung decides that his third son will be a farmer, since the elder two are scholar and merchant, respectively. Now he has settled the future of his family, Wang Lung starts to think about his wife. He is aware that she knows he does not love her, and now he notices for the first time that she is sick, although she has been ill for a long time. He fetches a doctor, who tells him that O-lan is gravely ill and will die.
Wang Lung's energies are now taken up with trying to ensure the future happiness of his children, through arranging their marriages. Just as Wang Lung had no say in who he was to marry, his sons have little influence either. It is Wang Lung who decides on a suitable match.
Wang Lung and O-lan have done their best to ensure that their second daughter will be considered desirable by following the traditional practice of binding her feet. This Chinese practice flourished for about a thousand years until it died out in the early twentieth century. Binding the feet was a painful practice that resulted in deformity of the foot, which would often be no longer than three inches. Small feet were considered attractive, however, and made a girl more likely to find a suitable husband. Wang Lung is therefore proud of his daughter, because O-lan "bound her feet well, so that she moved about with small graceful steps" (p. 214).
Wang Lung has now acquired the cares of the wealthy, but every time he gets overburdened, he takes a hoe and goes out to the fields, and that restores his spirits: "the good land did again its healing work" (p. 200). The same thing happens after the plague of locusts has passed: "For seven days he thought of nothing but his land, and he was healed of his troubles and his fears" (p. 201). Throughout the novel, staying close to the land is identified with happiness and a contented spirit; departing from it leads to insecurity and malaise.