Here you will find a The Good Earth summary (Pearl S. Buck's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.
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In a rural, historical Chinese setting, Wang Lung, a young, impoverished farmer, weds a 20-year-old slave named O-lan from the influential Hwang family. Although their relationship is not characterized by extensive verbal communication and despite Wang's initial disappointment in O-lan's lack of bound feet, the two share a mutual satisfaction in their union. Together, they successfully work the land, and their prosperity increases with the birth of a son and the acquisition of land from the declining Hwang family. However, Wang's newfound wealth draws the attention of his covetous and indolent uncle, who exploits societal customs to gain financial aid from Wang, even though he squanders the assistance on vices. Following the birth of a daughter, the land experiences a devastating famine. Amidst this crisis, O-lan delivers another daughter, whom she tragically kills due to the insufficiency of food. The situation forces Wang to relocate his family to a southern city for the winter, where they scrape by through begging and rickshaw transport work. The desperate circumstances even lead Wang and O-lan to contemplate selling their surviving daughter into slavery. Nevertheless, an opportunity arises when a mob loots a wealthy man's house, allowing Wang to acquire a stash of gold coins. Returning home with their spoils, Wang reinvests in farming while O-lan retains two pearls from her own loot. However, they discover that their eldest daughter has severe cognitive impairments. Wang's fortunes flourish as he hires laborers to tend his vast lands. But when a flood instigates a period of idleness, he becomes discontented and fixates on O-lan's physical flaws. He develops an obsession with a prostitute named Lotus, whom he eventually buys to be his concubine. Upon O-lan's terminal illness, Wang is filled with regret and acknowledges her invaluable contributions to his life. To mitigate the incessant demands of his exploitative uncle, Wang manipulates them into becoming opium addicts. After O-lan's demise, Wang's sons resist his life plans for them, indicating their lack of passion for farming and the land. With the arrival of a young slave, Pear Blossom, as another concubine, Wang is ensured care for his disabled daughter post his death. However, familial conflict persists, culminating in his sons' decision to sell the family land against Wang's vehement objections, marking a complete detachment from the land that brought them prosperity.
Wang Lung, a humble farmer, is ready for marriage. His father arranges a marriage for him with a servant from the wealthy Hwang family. His father, worried about his son's future wife's chastity, wants her to be plain, fearing a beautiful girl would have lost her virginity to the Hwang men. Wang Lung agrees, but insists the girl must not have a cleft lip or pockmarks. On his wedding day, Wang Lung goes all out, taking a full bath, getting a professional shave, and buying food and incense for the celebration, even as his father grumbles about the expense. But his excitement turns to anxiety when he has to pay a silver piece as a bribe to get past the gatekeeper at the Hwang estate. Inside the Hwang home, Wang Lung meets his bride, O-lan, for the first time. She is tall, solid, and her skin is brown and smooth. He is somewhat let down that her feet are not bound, a sign of nobility. O-lan was bought by the Hwang family during a famine when she was ten. The matriarch of the Hwang family, the Old Mistress, confirms O-lan is a virgin and sends the couple off with a request to see their first child. Back home, Wang Lung carries O-lan's heavy box and buys her some peaches. He pays respects to the earth god in their family temple, ignoring his father's complaints about the wedding cost. His father is secretly delighted about the guests. O-lan cooks the feast but refuses to be seen by the guests until after their wedding night. Her modesty and culinary skills impress Wang Lung.
On the day following his marriage, Wang Lung is uncertain if his new wife, O-lan, harbors any affection for him. His fears are eased when she serves him tea, a treat for a simple farmer, indicating her good intentions. As he adjusts to married life, he finds happiness and satisfaction. O-lan displays both resourcefulness and diligence. She keeps their humble home spotless and continually repairs their worn garments. However, her reticence and the sadness in her gaze puzzle Wang Lung. Once the house is organized, O-lan joins Wang Lung in the fields. Shortly into their marriage, she reveals that she is expecting a child. Wang Lung attempts to appear nonchalant, but he is overwhelmed with deep-seated happiness.
O-lan insists on going through childbirth alone, barring anyone from the House of Hwang. She's determined to first meet the Hwang family when she can present her newborn son to the Old Mistress. She already has clear ideas about what she and her newborn will wear for the visit and what they'll do there. O-lan's detailed image of their child astonishes Wang Lung. The joy spreads through their family when O-lan successfully gives birth to a boy.
Wang Lung acquires a pound of crimson sweetener for his spouse and their newborn son. He further buys fifty eggs and colors them red, an open announcement that his offspring is a male. He also gets four incense sticks to honor the deity of earth. Not long after the baby's arrival, O-lan resumes her field labor, momentarily pausing to feed her baby. The yield is exceptionally generous. Wang Lung's plentiful harvest allows him to conserve some grain until the middle of winter, aware that individuals pay elevated rates for grain during that season. Wang Lung arranges a modest party on the infant's one-month birthday and hands out his crimson boiled eggs. This festivity is an infrequent splurge for Wang Lung and O-lan who are usually economical. O-lan crafts the family's footwear and mends broken items to avoid buying new ones. The pair stashes their growing silver wealth in a crevice in the wall.
As the New Year approaches, Wang Lung purchases red paper squares that represent prosperity, embellishing his house and farming tools with them. O-lan bakes moon cakes for the occasion, drawing inspiration from the ones consumed at the House of Hwang. She intends to gift the finest ones to the Old Mistress when she introduces her newborn son at Hwang's residence. Donned in new attire, the couple, along with their infant and the moon cakes, visit the House of Hwang. Their prosperity leaves the gatekeeper visibly impressed. O-lan steps away to interact with the household while Wang Lung is left in the company of the gatekeeper's wife and some tea, which he disregards, feigning sophistication. Upon her return, O-lan shares how their son outshines the Old Master's offspring in both beauty and attire. She also reveals the financial crunch the Hwang family is facing, as evidenced by the absence of new coats for the slaves and the Old Mistress this New Year, unlike her own. She discloses that the family's reckless spending habits, the Old Master's multiple concubines, and the Old Mistress's opium addiction have led to their downfall. Wang Lung's spirit soars upon hearing of the Hwang's misfortunes in stark contrast to his own thriving fate, particularly his handsome son. However, the fear of attracting malevolent spirits forces him to feign disappointment over his luck, pretending his firstborn is a sickly girl. O-lan further discloses that the Hwangs are considering selling some land, which Wang Lung eagerly decides to purchase.
Wang Lung acquires a small piece of land from the Hwangs after paying off their representative. This new property brings him joy, though it demands more labor from him in his farms. His wife, O-lan's pregnancy irritates him as he fears she won't be able to help in the upcoming harvest. But his annoyance turns into joy when she gives birth to their second boy and promptly resumes work in the fields. Once again, Wang Lung reaps a plentiful harvest and finds himself with extra silver.
Wang Lung reproaches his aunt for allowing her marriageable daughter to roam freely in the public. The aunt retorts about their lack of funds for a dowry. O-lan falls pregnant and becomes ill, leaving Wang Lung to tend the fields solo. His uncle requests money from Wang Lung, who unable to hold back, scolds his uncle for his family's idleness. His uncle responds with a slap and a threat to inform the entire village. Wang Lung, in an attempt to appease him, lends him the money, supposedly for his daughter's matchmaker. The clash with his uncle leaves Wang Lung apprehensive about his streak of fortune coming to an end. When O-lan delivers a girl, Wang Lung fears this inauspicious event—unfortunate due to the child not being a son—may be a harbinger of looming misery.
Delayed rains result in a destructive drought, ruining most of Wang Lung's harvest. Consequently, the House of Hwang spirals further into economic hardship, enabling Wang Lung to buy a piece of their land, twice the size of his previous purchase. Yet, his own struggles persist: the yield is meager, and his wife O-lan is expecting their fourth child. Eventually, hunger coerces Wang Lung into slaughtering his laboring ox. His uncle, disgruntled by the small food portion he receives, tips off the villagers that Wang Lung has hidden assets. Subsequently, a band of starving villagers, assuming Wang Lung is hoarding wealth, raid his home and pilfer his modest food reserves. They attempt to snatch the furniture too, but O-lan rebukes them, pointing out their hypocrisy for criticizing Wang Lung whilst not selling their own furniture. Embarrassed, the intruders retreat from Wang Lung's place with the little food they managed to scavenge.
Starvation sweeps through the region. Ching, Wang Lung's neighbor, divulges the grim fact that some folks resort to cannibalism. Ching, ridden with guilt for raiding Wang Lung's house, offers him a few beans. Amidst this sorrow, O-lan delivers another female child, who she kills post-birth to alleviate the family's mounting struggles. Attempting to bury the tiny body, Wang Lung is hindered by a dog eager to feed on the corpse. Weak from starvation, he leaves the child's body to the animal. Wang Lung's uncle, along with a group from the town, visit Wang Lung, with an aim to buy his lands cheaply, exploiting his dire circumstances. Despite the uncle's earlier teachings about familial support, Wang Lung refuses to sell his land but parts with his furniture. In the face of his infant daughter's death and his uncle's treachery, Wang Lung concludes that relocating south, away from the famine, is the family's only shot at survival.
With his elderly father on his back, Wang Lung journeys through the town with his relatives. He harbors resentment towards the gods for not aiding him, neglecting the statues erected in their honor. He learns of a "firewagon", a train, that could speed their journey south. Throughout the town, groups gather to head south looking for sustenance. Near the dilapidated House of Hwang, a ragged band of famished men berate the Hwangs, who indulge in wine amidst the famine. Wang Lung and his kin join the mass heading to the train station. Even with his skepticism towards the intimidating firewagon, he and his family get on board, leaving their village behind.
During their train journey south, Wang Lung learns begging tips from fellow passengers, although he finds the concept distressing. He hopes to secure employment instead. Upon reaching their new home, the family buys mats to construct a shelter and heads to communal kitchens for cheap rice gruel. As a preventative measure against rich people feeding their pigs, they're not allowed to take food away from the kitchen. Wang Lung's family, including O-lan and the two boys, resort to begging for income. Wang Lung manages to secure work as a rickshaw puller, gradually earning enough to feed his family. He also becomes adept at bargaining for a fair price. Initially, they struggle financially, barely making enough for food despite Wang Lung's job and the family's begging. It is a disheartening time and they feel estranged in their own land. However, upon seeing the Western inhabitants of the city who seem more alien, they start feeling less out of place.
Wang Lung becomes aware of conversations in the city regarding the need for change. Despite the city's apparent affluence, countless people are on the brink of famine. To survive, O-lan allows their kids to steal, a desperate move for survival. One day, Wang Lung finds his wife cooking a pork dish, their first taste of meat since they butchered their ox, but when their younger child proudly admits to stealing the pork, O-lan is dismayed. Although he permits his family to consume the stolen pork, he refuses to partake. After the meal, he scolds his child for stealing. Increasingly, Wang Lung yearns for his rural home and the life they left behind.
Amidst the city's elderly poor, there's acceptance of their state, while the younger ones grow increasingly discontent, speaking more about rebellion. O-lan is pregnant again and as the planting season nears, they lack the funds to return home or purchase seeds. The desire to return to their land gnaws at Wang Lung. He reassures himself that they will find a way home. O-lan points out harshly that their daughter is their only sellable asset. She would be ready to sell their child into servitude to fulfill Wang Lung's longing for home. This idea horrifies him, for he cherishes his daughter, yet it also tempts him. He's torn between his affection for his child and his devotion to his land. His anguish is overheard by a man in a nearby hut. The man suggests that there's always means to bridge the wealth gap, hinting at a brewing revolution.
Wang Lung receives a paper from a Western missionary, but being unable to read, he doesn't understand the imagery printed on it. His father suggests the depicted man on a cross must have been wicked. O-lan repurposes the paper to mend their worn shoes. Wang Lung then receives another paper showcasing a wealthy man stabbing a poor man. The man distributing the papers lectures about the portrayal of rich versus poor, but Wang Lung dismisses it, valuing land over wealth. He keeps this paper for shoe repair as well. As forced conscription of the poor into the military begins, Wang Lung finds himself confused about the ongoing conflict. With the wealthy vacating the city, and public amenities shutting down, he contemplates selling his daughter again. Concerned about her welfare, he asks O-lan about her experience in the House of Hwang. O-lan reveals she was constantly beaten and that good-looking girls were not only beaten, but also sexually abused by the masters of the house. Wang Lung ponders his daughter's fate when the enemy forces invade. As the city descends into chaos, the poor plunder the homes of the rich. Wang Lung joins the mob, acquiring a number of gold coins in the process. This newfound wealth excites him, as he now has the means to return to his homeland.
After purchasing seed and an ox, Wang Lung comes home to find his dwelling looted. His friend Ching reveals that bandits, possibly connected to Wang Lung's own uncle, used his house as their hideout during the frigid months. Ching is grieving the loss of his wife and distressingly, he had to hand over his daughter to a soldier to save her from famine. Expressing gratitude for Ching's earlier act of kindness, Wang Lung supplies him with seed to sow his land, even volunteering to do the plowing himself. He also becomes aware that his uncle has disposed of all his daughters. Despite his house being in ruins, Wang Lung remains optimistic. The repairs can be handled easily, and his land remains unaffected. Filled with anticipation for their impending fortune yet apprehensive about inviting misfortune, he and O-lan decide to purchase and light incense sticks as offerings to the gods.
Wang Lung finds out that O-lan has taken jewels from the southern loot, her previous life in a wealthy home making her aware of where valuables are often hidden. He decides the gems should be used to acquire more land. O-lan requests to retain two pearls, a request he grants. Visiting the House of Hwang to discuss a land purchase, Wang Lung is surprised to see only the Old Master and a slave, Cuckoo, remain. He learns from Cuckoo, who now manages the estate, that an attack from bandits has stripped the house of its slaves and goods, and caused the Old Mistress to die from terror. Wang Lung proceeds to use the jewels to buy three hundred acres of land from the Old Master.
Wang Lung adds more animals to his farm, expands his house, and buys Ching's property. He lets Ching move in and work for them, and due to the large size of the land, he employs more workers under the dependable Ching's supervision. The family grows as O-lan delivers twins, which pleases Wang Lung because he can afford more kids. However, he notices his first daughter's developmental delays and realizes she's disabled. This makes him feel thankful for not selling her, as she may have been killed by her buyers. His guilt makes him grow fond of her, and he frequently takes her along to the fields. His farm yields plentiful crops, allowing him to save money and food for harder times. This success leads him to build another house. Feeling embarrassed about his inability to read and write, he enrolls his eldest son in a school. His younger son, who often grumbles, also expresses the desire to study, to which Wang Lung agrees. At school, they get the names Nung En and Nung Wen, which mean "one whose prosperity comes from the soil."
Wang Lung is unable to work his fields due to a flood, which leaves him feeling aimless. His workers manage his day-to-day responsibilities. He begins to view his wife, O-lan, as “dull and common” despite her significant contribution to his newfound wealth. He harshly berates her appearance and her large, unbound feet, causing her distress. His guilt regarding his actions only exacerbates his anger. He visits the unassuming tea shop he used to frequent but finds it less appealing now that he’s wealthy. He ventures into a lavish new tea shop and marvels at the luxurious decor and portraits of beautiful women he initially mistakes for “women in dreams.” He spends days in this tea house and learns that Cuckoo, the woman who used to be a slave alongside O-lan, works there. She teases him about only consuming tea and informs him that the women in the portraits are real and available to him. Wang Lung is drawn towards a painting of a young woman with a lotus flower. However, he leaves without revealing his new attraction to Cuckoo.
Wang shows up at the tea house uncertain of his next move. Cuckoo derisively greets him, but Wang retaliates by flaunting his wealth. She swiftly guides him to Lotus. Encountering the stunning young woman, particularly her tiny hands and "apricot eyes", he falls under her charm. He confesses his inexperience in love affairs and asks her to guide him. Enthralled, he keeps visiting Lotus every day, his infatuation with her insatiable. This affection completely transforms Wang. He discards his old-fashioned ponytail at Lotus's behest, leaving O-lan distressed. His devotion to agriculture dwindles. He splurges on new attire, becomes conscious of his looks, and squanders money. Despite feeling guilty, he insists on taking O-lan's precious pearls, intending to gift them to Lotus.
Wang Lung's uncle takes advantage of his sense of duty and moves into his house with his family. The uncle's wife notices Wang Lung's changed demeanor, suggesting that he yearns for another woman. She advises O-lan, Wang Lung's wife, that it is common for wealthy men to have multiple wives. On hearing this, Wang Lung is encouraged and requests his uncle's wife to assist him in acquiring Lotus. He discloses his willingness to part with his land just to have Lotus. Awaiting the news about Lotus, Wang Lung is restless and reprimands O-lan for her unkempt hair. O-lan cries, reminding him that she bore his children. This makes Wang Lung feel remorseful, realizing he has no legitimate grievances against O-lan. He sets up a different court and a fishpond where he accommodates Lotus and her servant Cuckoo. Lotus, having bound feet, is brought to the house on a chair as she cannot walk long distances. Once Lotus settles in, Wang Lung is content and sleeps with her every night.
O-lan chooses to overlook Lotus but expresses her dissatisfaction by openly criticizing Cuckoo. She reflects on their past as slaves in the House of Hwang where Cuckoo, being of higher status, treated her harshly. Now, as the primary wife, O-lan refuses to serve Cuckoo and doesn't allow her to work in the kitchen. When Wang Lung insists O-lan to treat Cuckoo kindly, she reminds him of the pearls he took from her for Lotus. This leaves Wang Lung speechless and he decides to construct a separate kitchen for Lotus and Cuckoo, hoping to ease the tension. Meanwhile, Cuckoo indulges Lotus with costly and fine food while Wang Lung’s uncle's wife grows close to the two. Wang Lung's infatuation with Lotus starts to fade. Wang Lung's elderly father, who is growing senile, spots Lotus in the house and calls her a “harlot.” He's dismissive of any justification for her presence and starts to irritate Lotus with child-like nuisances like spitting on her floor or throwing stones in her pond. One day, Lotus encounters Wang Lung's twins and their sister who is captivated by Lotus's colorful attire and jewelry. The girl tries to touch them, causing Lotus to shriek in protest. She berates the “idiot” and insults Wang Lung's children. Incensed by her disrespect, Wang Lung avoids Lotus for two days. When he finally visits her, she makes an extra effort to charm him. He forgives her, but his love for her never fully recovers. One day, Wang Lung observes that the fields are ripe for plowing. Overwhelmed by a deep connection to his land, he sheds his extravagant clothes calling for his hoe and plow. Buck describes this moment as a voice, deeper than love, crying out in him for his land.
Wang Lung immerses himself in labor, resulting in his unhealthy fixation with Lotus fading, hence she's no longer able to easily control him. His firstborn son's literacy brings him immense pride. However, the boy eventually turns gloomy and petulant and starts to shirk his school responsibilities. This leads to Wang Lung disciplining him physically. Later, O-lan points out to Wang Lung that the young masters in the House of Hwang displayed the same sullenness. This was usually addressed by providing them with a female servant. Wang Lung finds this surprising, but O-lan explains that their son, unburdened by work, has time to wallow in self-pity. Secretly thrilled by the thought that his son is as indulged as a young lord, Wang Lung thinks it's appropriate to find his son a bride.
Wang Lung isn't interested in having his son wed a village girl, but his lack of good relations with rich townsmen impedes him from seeking otherwise. Lotus then mentions Liu, a grain merchant who once paid her a visit, and has a daughter approaching marriageable age. Wang Lung comes to know that his son was taken to an elderly town prostitute by his cousin, which infuriates him. He confronts the prostitute, offering double her fees to refuse his son. He instructs Cuckoo to set up marriage talks with Liu immediately. In his rage, he demands his uncle and his family to leave. His uncle audaciously displays a fake red beard and a red cloth, symbols of a notorious gang known for their savage crimes. Defiantly daring Wang Lung to remove him, his uncle reveals why his home was never targeted in past raids. Understanding the repercussions of expelling his uncle, Wang Lung decides against it. He sees the risk of his home being looted and the unlikely chances of his uncle facing justice if reported. He permits his uncle to stay and hands over silver to his uncle's wife and son. Cuckoo sets up the engagement successfully. However, Liu's daughter is underage at fourteen, and Liu requests for the wedding to be postponed by three years. Amidst these complications, Wang Lung finds himself fighting against a locust infestation threatening his crops.
Wang Lung declines his elder son's plea to attend a southern university. O-lan's belly has been strangely bloated over three years, despite not being with child. She complains of stomach discomfort but continues to labor as Wang Lung hasn't thought to get her a maid. O-lan startled Wang Lung with news of their firstborn frequently visiting Lotus unsupervised. Initially skeptical, she suggests he should unexpectedly drop by home to see for himself. Wang Lung is shocked when he finds his son alone with Lotus. In his rage, he punishes them both and impulsively dispatches his son to the southern university.
Wang Lung's second son, a shrewd and bright child, is sent to apprentice under Liu. During the arrangements, Wang Lung and Liu consider the idea of arranging a marriage between Liu's son and Wang Lung's younger daughter. Upon his return home, Wang Lung observes that his daughter's foot-binding is successful, but notices her tear-streaked face. The girl confesses the binding causes her significant pain, but she kept quiet because O-lan warned her that revealing her discomfort might make Wang Lung put an end to the foot-binding process. She shares with him that O-lan warned that if her feet weren't bound, her future husband wouldn't love her, paralleling how Wang Lung doesn't love O-lan. Guilt-ridden by this, Wang Lung instructs Cuckoo to finalize his younger daughter's betrothal and plans to train his third son as a farmer. However, his thoughts remain on his wife. Remorse wells up in Wang Lung for not paying enough attention to O-lan. He sees her struggling with painful, sluggish movements, and commands her to rest. He engages a doctor's services, but the doctor, abiding by Chinese law, is unable to guarantee a cure for O-lan. Instead, he quotes a hefty fee to indirectly convey to Wang Lung that O-lan's condition is beyond treatment. When Wang Lung enters the kitchen, "where O-lan had lived her life for the most part," he breaks down in tears.
O-lan falls gravely ill, with her significance to the family becoming evident as she remains bedbound. Wang Lung spends his time caring for her during her sickness. O-lan's fevered state brings her past traumas to the forefront as she often imagines herself back as a frightened slave in the Hwang household or cries for her parents. She requests her son's fiancée to look after her, and both she and Wang Lung are pleased with the girl's conduct. O-lan has one last wish: to see her son wed before her demise. This request is granted by Liu, leading to his daughter's marriage taking place earlier than expected. Wang Lung is satisfied with his son's development into adulthood and his contentment with his chosen bride. As O-lan is too weak to witness the marriage, she rests and listens from her bed. After the wedding, O-lan passes away, her parting words being a fervent declaration that "beauty will not bear a man sons," asserting her own value despite her plain appearance. Following O-lan's death, Wang Lung's father also dies. Both O-lan and Wang Lung's father are honored with a single funeral. Overwhelmed by grief after the ceremony, Wang Lung can't stand the thought of Lotus wearing the two pearls he took from O-lan.
A devastating flood leads to a horrific famine, forcing Wang Lung to keep a close eye on his family's spending. Despite treating his uncle's family with respect, they constantly criticize his thrifty habits. Wang Lung's eldest son grows frustrated watching his father being used by his relatives, and fears for his wife's safety around his flirtatious cousin. His father reveals the reason for their tolerance is the uncle's connection to a feared group of thieves. The son proposes they eliminate the whole family, but Wang Lung dismisses this idea. The son then suggests plying the uncle and cousin with opium, an expensive but potentially less costly solution than their current costs. Although initially hesitant, Wang Lung agrees to this plan after his uncle's son makes inappropriate advances towards his younger daughter. Fearing for her safety, Wang Lung arranges for his daughter to stay with her future in-laws, and then proceeds to buy opium to get his uncle's family addicted.
Wang Lung's uncle and his wife easily fall into the opium trap set by Wang Lung, leading to their addiction and consequently, their cessation of troubles towards Wang Lung. In the meantime, returnees from the south come to Wang Lung for high-interest loans to purchase seeds. Quite a few have to part with their land or daughters to him in exchange for these loans. Wang Lung's reputation for kindness makes him the preferred choice for selling daughters. He buys Pear Blossom, a seven-year-old girl, to serve Lotus. Wang Lung's cousin, however, resists the allure of opium and remains idle, displaying inappropriate interest in the women around him, including Wang Lung's oldest son's wife. A plan put forth by Wang Lung's eldest son finds favor with Wang Lung. The plan involves renting the once magnificent Hwang family house to live in, and leaving Wang Lung's current residence to his uncle's family. Wang Lung's younger son backs this idea. Wang Lung, upon moving into the Hwang house, finds immense satisfaction in living in a site he has long associated with wealth and success.
Wang Lung's younger son shocks him by revealing his marriage intentions to a thrifty, diligent village woman from a well-off family. Wang Lung agrees without hesitation, and Ching recommends a suitable bride. In an unexpected turn of events, the son of Wang Lung's uncle decides to join a northern war, eliciting joy from everyone but his mother. Meanwhile, Wang Lung acclimates to his newfound wealth, indulging in luxurious clothing, fine food, and late mornings. When his eldest son's wife delivers a healthy boy, a wet nurse is hired to preserve the mother's health and beauty. Prompted by the birth of his grandson, Wang Lung's eldest proposes creating ancestral tablets for festive commemorations, emulating other prosperous families. In the midst of this joy, Ching, Wang Lung's loyal servant, passes away unexpectedly in the fields. Despite Wang Lung's desire for a grand funeral and burial next to his father and his wife, O-lan, he respects his son's wish not to inter a servant with the family. This loss leads to Wang Lung spending less time in his fields, a painful reminder of his devoted servant.
Prompted by his eldest son, Wang Lung permits the buying of pricey furnishings and adornments. His disregard for the high costs only ceases when his more prudent second son voices his concerns about the exorbitant spending. The revelation that his third son has no desire to farm leads Wang Lung, albeit reluctantly, to employ a tutor for him. He hands over the family’s financial matters to his second son. Eventually, the death of Wang Lung’s uncle occurs and he is laid to rest in the family burial ground.
As the war edges nearer, the nephew of Wang Lung, a current serviceman, takes advantage of Wang Lung's kindness by accommodating himself and a few fellow soldiers. Concurrently, Cuckoo proposes that they allow the cousin of Wang Lung to choose a slave for himself. He selects Pear Blossom, who pleads for mercy. Another slave volunteers to replace her, and this agreement is finalized. Upon the cousin's departure, it is discovered that the substitute slave is pregnant.
The servant girl delivers a baby girl, prompting Wang Lung to wed her to one of his workers. Concurrently, Wang Lung's aunt passes away, leading to her burial in the ancestral cemetery. Conflicts escalate between his elder sons, with financial disputes at their core, turning their wives into adversaries. Wang Lung's youngest boy expresses his wish to become a soldier. In an attempt to dissuade him, Wang Lung promises to fulfill any of his desires. Nonetheless, Wang Lung is filled with envy when his son requests Pear Blossom. He forbids his son from fathering children with slaves, citing it as unethical.
In a nocturnal conversation, Pear Blossom reveals to Wang Lung her aversion for youthful males, labeling them as excessively "fierce," in contrast to the gentleness of the elderly. Wang Lung subsequently makes her his mistress. Angered by this development, the third son abandons the familial home to join the battlefield.
In his twilight years, Wang Lung hands Pear Blossom a lethal substance, urging her to end his disabled daughter's life after his death. He fears she would be neglected and suffer without him. Pear Blossom, however, refuses to comply, vowing to look after the young girl instead. As Wang Lung's mental state deteriorates with age, his family finds his views and philosophies amusingly outdated. Despite this, he continues to find joy in meals, drinks, and Pear Blossom's company. Sensing his imminent demise, he requests his sons to purchase a coffin for him. This brings him solace as he relocates to his earthen dwelling, intending to spend his last days there. Upon eavesdropping on his elder sons deliberating a potential land sale, he exclaims, "If you sell the land, it is the end". Regardless of their repeated reassurances they won't sell, they exchange amused glances over his head.