Notes on Characters from The Good Earth

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The Good Earth Major Characters

Wang Lung: Wang Lung is a poor peasant farmer whose love for the land sustains him through the difficult times of his life. After marrying a slave from a great house, he gradually rises from a poor, humble, country farmer to a wealthy, respected, landowning patriarch of a great family. He multiplies his fortunes through the help of his loyal wife, O-lan, and his faith in the good earth.

O-lan: O-lan is sold by her parents during a famine to the great House of Hwang where she works as a kitchen slave until being given to Wang Lung. She is a dark, plain-looking, dull woman who rarely speaks. Although she is not beautiful, O-lan is extremely patient, hard working, resourceful, and faithful. She gives birth to three sons and three girls, and five children survive. She knows that Wang Lung can never love her, but is extremely loyal to him. After having worked all her life for Wang Lung and the family, O-lan dies from an incurable illness.

Old Man (Wang Lung's father): Wang Lung's father comes from a family of farmers, and has worked on the land for most of his life before bequeathing it to Wang Lung. He is an old man who becomes increasingly feeble with age, spending most of his time eating and sleeping. He dies soon after O-lan dies.

Ching: Ching is Wang Lung's nearest neighbor who, with Wang Lung's rising fortunes, comes to live with him, and becomes his steward, overseeing various matters of the field and the workers. Ching is a small, timid man who rarely speaks. The famine destroys his family, but he spends the rest of his life serving Wang Lung like an extremely faithful dog. After Ching dies, Wang Lung can no longer bear to go out to his land by himself.

Eldest son of Wang Lung (Nung En): He is Wang Lung's first born. During adolescence, he is lustful, troublesome, and moody like a young lord of a great house. He is sent to school to be educated, and eventually goes south to become a scholar. Later, he returns to marry a town-born maid who is the daughter of a grain dealer. As an adult, he is highly conscious of the status and the wealth of his family in town. He is also very extravagant, and scornful of the common people. Later, he becomes an official among the rich men in town, and gets himself a second wife.

Second Son of Wang Lung (Nung Wen): Even as a child, the second son is different from his older sibling. Sharp and thrifty, he is apprenticed to the grain merchant Liu after school. Later, the second son becomes a clerk of the grain shop, comes to manage Wang Lung's finances, and marries a village maid. He and his haughty older brother do not get along as a result of various differences. Later, the second son sets up a grain market of his own.

Third Son of Wang Lung: The third son is born as a twin with a girl child. He has O-lan's gravity and silence. Wang Lung wishes to keep him on the land as a farmer, but he does not wish to be a farmer. Wang Lung finally allows a tutor for the third son so that he may be educated, but the third son runs away from home to become a soldier. Later, people from the south say that he has become a high ranking military official of the revolution.

Wife of the Eldest Son: She is a properly demure, fair maid from town who is the daughter of Liu, the grain merchant. After marrying the eldest son, she gives birth to Wang Lung's first grandson. The wife of the second son and she do not get along.

Wife of the Second Son: She is a good-humored, robust village maid who marries the second son. She gives birth to a girl child.

Eldest Daughter of Wang Lung (Poor Fool): When she is born, a sense of evil strikes Wang Lung, as though an era of misfortune has begun for him. She is an infant during the famine, and most likely, because of lack of nourishment, the eldest daughter grows up to be mildly retarded. She never talks nor does she ever grow up to do things befitting a child of her age. She simply smiles like a baby, and plays with a piece of cloth. Because Wang Lung pities her, he loves and cares for her the most out of all the rest of the children. Even as he is dying of old age, Wang Lung does not forget 'his poor fool,' making sure that she will be taken care of by someone. Pear Blossom promises Wang Lung that she will look after the eldest daughter after his death.

Daughter of Wang Lung (Born and killed during the famine): The second daughter is born during the famine, but dies immediately after being born. It is suggested that O-lan kills her because it is during the famine, and a girl is only a burden, brought up to be given to other families in marriage. Wang Lung notices bruise marks around the child's neck as he wraps the body to bury it.

Second Daughter of Wang Lung: She is born as a twin with Wang Lung's third son. She is an extremely pretty, delicate girl who is later sent off to be married to the son of Merchant Liu. O-lan binds her feet tightly so that she will not meet a fate like that of herself as an unloved, undesired wife of a man.

Wang Lung's Uncle (younger brother of Wang Lung's father): Wang Lung's uncle is a lazy, sly, old man who is a burden and a constant source of trouble to Wang Lung. Unlike Wang Lung, he is not a hard-working farmer, always gambling away whatever money he has. He joins a group of dangerous bandits during the famine, and comes back to use that to threaten Wang Lung. He and his wife live off Wang Lung's wealth, and later die of age and excessive opium use.

Uncle's Wife: The wife of the uncle is a fat, loud, greedy woman who is as lazy and devious as the uncle is. She arranges the union between Wang Lung and the beautiful Lotus. She dies some time after her husband from having smoked too much opium.

Son of the Uncle: He is the lustful, base son of Wang Lung's uncle who is also a constant source of annoyance to Wang Lung and his family. He lures Wang Lung's oldest son into prostitution during adolescence, and lusts after Wang Lung's second daughter so that the maid has to be sent to the home of her betrothed for protection. Later, he goes off to a war in the north and becomes a soldier. For a short time, he returns to Wang Lung's house with a group of rowdy soldiers, stirring up confusion and trouble within the household, but goes away as soon as he came after leaving one of Wang Lung's slaves pregnant.

Lotus: Lotus is a pretty, slender girl of the great tea house who later becomes Wang Lung's mistress. Her delicate features and little face enchant Wang Lung. At Wang Lung's house, she leads a life of good food, silk clothes, and luxury. Although beautiful, she is quick-tempered and spoiled. As an old woman, Lotus is fat and lazy, caring for nothing but food and jewelry.

Cuckoo: Cuckoo is a handsome woman with a sharp face and hard features. She is a sly, quick-witted woman who will do anything for money. Although a mere slave at the House of Hwang, she is the Old Lord's favorite. Later, after the great house has fallen into poverty and deterioration, she wields power and control over the Old Lord, selling the family land to Wang Lung in exchange for jewels. After the Old Lord dies, Cuckoo becomes the keeper of the teahouse Wang Lung frequents to see Lotus. She comes to Wang Lung's house as a serving woman to Lotus. When she comes, there is trouble between her and O-lan.

Minor Characters

Gatekeeper of the great house of Hwang: He is the haughty, condescending gatekeeper who lets Wang Lung into the house on the day he goes to get O-lan. According to Cuckoo, he is one of the robbers to loot the great house during the famine.

Gatekeeper's wife: She is the pockmarked wife of the gatekeeper. Later, when Wang Lung goes to the great house to decide whether or not he will rent it, she lets him into the courts.

Old Mistress: She is the mistress of the great house who gives O-lan away to Wang Lung. Because of her constant opium smoking, she is haggard and distracted. When Wang Lung first sees her, she is a small old lady, clad in satin and jewels and sitting on a dais.

Old Master: He is the lord of the great house. When Wang Lung goes to see him to buy land, he has been reduced to an old man, helpless under the control of a cunning slave (Cuckoo).

Merchant Liu: He is the grain merchant in town who marries his daughter to Wang Lung's eldest son. He also agrees to marry his son to Wang Lung's second daughter and apprentices Wang Lung's second son.

Pear Blossom : She is a pale, frail girl who is sold to Wang Lung following a famine. She waits on Lotus, but gains her disfavor by refusing to be given to the son of Wang Lung's uncle. She is a frightened, delicate creature who prefers Wang Lung to young men. She takes care of Wang Lung in old age, and comforts him by promising to take care of his poor fool after his death. Because she is a very pretty girl, Wang Lung's third son and the uncle's son all show interest in her.

Slave: She is the stout slave of Wang Lung who volunteers to be given to the son of the uncle when he comes as a soldier. Later, she gives birth to a girl child, and takes care of the uncle's wife who is dying. She asks Wang Lung to find a husband for her so she can be married, and Wang Lung chooses to give her to the laborer who caused Ching's death.

Laborer: He is a ruddy, rustic farmer who inadvertently causes Ching's death. He is later given one of Wang Lung's slaves who wishes to be married to a farmer.

Yang, the whore: She is the coarse, aged whore who lives in the court of the great house after the fall of the Hwang family. She is visited by Wang Lung's eldest son during his adolescence. Wang Lung asks her that she refuse to see his son when he comes to see her in exchange for money. She agrees to the arrangement.

Girl Cousin of Wang Lung (Daughter of the uncle) : She is the daughter of Wang Lung's uncle. One day, Wang Lung sees her talking freely with a man, and the uncle comes to Wang Lung to ask for some money to provide for her wedding dowry.

Schoolmaster at the small school near the city gate: He is the old master of the small school near the city gate who once failed the government examinations, and decided to turn to teaching young men in the classics.

First Grandson of Wang Lung: The eldest son's wife gives birth to a son who is Wang Lung's first grandchild.

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