The Good Earth: Novel Summary: Chapter 26-28
Throughout the winter, O-lan lies in bed, slowly dying. For the first time, Wang Lung realizes how much work O-lan did in order to keep her family comfortable, and he and the children struggle to keep the household running smoothly. Wang Lung pities his wife, even though he does not love her, and he tries to take care of her in her last illness.
O-lan requests that her future daughter-in-law be summoned to the house. She says she will not die until her eldest son returns and marries the girl. Then she can die with ease.
Wang Lung makes arrangements for a marriage feast, and his son returns the night before the wedding. The wedding takes place, followed by a feast. That night, after the guests depart, O-lan dies.
After her death, Wang Lung cannot bear to sleep in the room where she died, and moves into the inner court where Lotus lives. His son and daughter-in-law then move into O-lan's room.
Very soon after this, Wang Lung's father dies. He and O-lan are buried at the same time. After the funeral, Wang Lung wishes he had not taken the two pearls from O-lan and given them to Lotus.
As summer approaches, Ching warns Wang Lung that there will be a great flood. When it comes, the river bursts its dykes, and one by one the villages in the area are turned into islands. Houses are destroyed, and people make their escape by raft. In addition to this, it rains for days without a break. Wang Lung's house is safe because it is on a high hill, but the water covers his land. That year there are no harvests, and many people starve. The famine is the worst Wang Lung has known, since the water does not recede in time to plant wheat for the winter, so there is no harvest the following year, either. Wang Lung carefully husbands his resources, cutting back spending to essentials, even though he still has silver hidden away.
In these difficult times, Wang Lung's uncle and his family become troublesome, complaining about the food they are given, and demanding that he give them silver. They tell him that were it not for the protection afforded by Wang Lung's uncle, the house would long ago have been sacked by the notorious Redbeards, the criminal gang of which Wang Lung's uncle is a member. Wang Lung reluctantly submits to their demands.
Meanwhile, enmity has broken out between Wang Lung's eldest son and his cousin, who looks lustfully on the son's wife. Wang Lung's son wants to throw his father's uncle, wife and son out, but Wang Lung cannot bring himself to do such a thing. Instead, he comes up with a plan to buy opium and give it to the offending family to smoke. This will dull their minds and make them more docile. In the meantime, the son of Wang Lung's uncle continues to make a nuisance of himself by inflicting his attentions on Wang Lung's second daughter. Wang Lung is angry at this, and sends his daughter off to live with Liu, whose son is already betrothed to the thirteen-year-old girl.
Wang Lung's uncle takes to the opium, lying all day on his bed smoking it and leaving Wang Lung alone.
In spring the flood recedes. Wang Lung's son announces that his wife is pregnant, and Wang Lung relishes the prospect of having a grandson. In summer, the people who had gone away return, and Wang Lung lends them money to rebuild their homes and cultivate their land. Wang Lung buys a girl of seven to serve Lotus, since Cuckoo is growing old.
There is more trouble between Wang Lung's eldest son and his cousin. Wang Lung is exasperated by this continuing conflict, when all he wants is peace in his own house. His son suggests that they all move into the town, and rent the inner courts at the House of Hwang, which are currently empty. The idea of moving into the old house that had made such a deep impression on him when he was young appeals to Wang Lung, and he decides to make the move.
Although Wang Lung loves the land, he has never had the simple peasant's faith in God. It is the land itself that is like a god to him; he has no time for traditional religion. In Chapter 27, when Ching tells him of the approaching flood, Wang Lung speaks in strong language against God: "I have never had any good from that old man in heaven yet. Incense or no incense, he is the same in evil (pp. 232-33). He says later in the same chapter that the same "old man in heaven" will enjoy seeing people drowned and starving. So although Wang Lung has no complaint against the land he loves, even though it is subject to drought, famine and flood, he denounces whatever personal Being who may be in charge of such things. Ching rebukes him for speaking in this way, but since Wang Lung became rich he feels no compunction about expressing himself in such blunt terms when he is angry.
Chapter 28 shows the snobbery that has infected Wang Lung since he became rich. He walks down the street observing the common people but without any sympathy or understanding of them. He seems to feel only contempt: "the place reeked with the smell of common people who swarm into the courts of the great when the great are gone" (p. 250). Wang Lung appears to identify himself with the "great," whereas before, he was himself one of the common people. Now he despises them, he walks among them "with his nose up and breathing lightly because of the stink they made" (p. 251).