Chapter 1 Notes from The Good Earth

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The Good Earth Chapter 1

It is the day of Wang Lung's marriage. His father is coughing from the other room, and Wang Lung lies on his bed. Getting up from the bed, he feels the wind by sticking his hand out through a hole in the window and thinks it is a good omen. He goes into the kitchen that is made of straw and the earth from the fields, and carefully fills the cauldron with water. Water is precious, but after thinking, he suddenly pours all of the water from the jar and decides to wash his whole body because he wishes himself to be clean today. While making the fire, Wang Lung thinks to himself that this is the last day he will have to light the fire himself. Ever since his mother died six years ago, Wang Lung has had to do it for himself and his father, but after today, there will be a woman in the house to do it.

Wang Lung's father comes out of his room, and complains that he has not yet had his daily water. Wang Lung makes him tea, but his father complains that it is wasteful. Seeing Wang Lung's bath water, he continues scolding Wang Lung even as he carries the tub into the room.

After washing himself, Wang Lung puts on a coat and a pair of trousers that he wears only on special days. When his father complains again that he needs something to eat, Wang Lung quickly prepares a corn gruel. Going back into his own room, Wang Lung thinks that he would like to be newly shaven for the occasion. Taking his pouch of money, he counts how much he has - he needs to think about food that he will have to buy for the dinner. He has invited people from the village to dine in honor of his wedding. Although he is initially hesitant, Wang Lung decides to go for a shave.

On his way, Wang Lung passes the fields and the city wall. He also passes the great House of Hwang where he will go get the slave girl who will be his wife. His father had insisted that there were only slaves left for the poor. Farmers like Wang Lung could not afford the costly expense of weddings. The woman would keep house, give birth to children, and work in the fields, things a pretty woman would certainly not do for Wang Lung. Wang Lung knew nothing about the woman who was to be his wife except for the fact that she was not pockmarked and that she did not have a split upper lip.

Wang Lung goes into the Street of Barbers and seats himself on a stool to be shaven. He feels timid because with townspeople, he always feels as though he is the object of ridicule. When the barber comments on Wang Lung's braid as being out of fashion, he jumps up, crying out in panic that he cannot cut it off without asking his father. After the shave, Wang Lung pays - to him it is a lot of money. At the market, Wang Lung buys pork, lotus leaf, beef, beancurd, jelly, and at the candle shop, he buys a pair of incense sticks. He makes his way toward the House of Hwang, but is suddenly frightened. Having never before been to a great house, he is ashamed to go in asking for a woman.

Wishing to stall, he turns around and heads down to a restaurant to eat something, but when he can delay no longer, Wang Lung heads to the great house. He is greeted by a gatekeeper with a large mole on his left cheek who is haughty and rude to Wang Lung the farmer. Wang Lung is forced to yield a piece of silver to the scornful gatekeeper before he will lead Wang Lung into the house. Wang Lung is led through a long veranda, and at the center of the room sits the Old Mistress who is smoking a pipe of opium. Her opium smoking distracts her from Wang Lung, but she finally calls for the slave he has come to get who is named O-lan. When a woman comes into the room, Wang Lung is disappointed to see that she has unbound feet.

Topic Tracking: Women 1

The Old Mistress tells Wang Lung that the woman came to the great house as a child because her parents, who had come from a northern city called Shantung, sold her during a year of famine. She also tells him that she is a virgin and has been a good slave. After telling O-lan to bring her the first born child to see, the Old Mistress dismisses them both. She is very absorbed in her opium smoking.

Wang Lung looks back to see the woman for the first time and observes her square face, nose, wide mouth, and small eyes, finding no beauty in her face. On the way home, Wang Lung buys O-lan peaches, which she greedily eats. Soon, they reach the temple to the earth, a temple that Wang Lung's grandfather made from bricks and tiles. Adorned in red robes, the Earth God and his lady sit under the roof of the temple. Every New Year, Wang Lung's father buys new red paper to make robes for this couple. After having lit the incense, Wang Lung and O-lan stand before the gods, and it is "a moment of marriage" for them.

Topic Tracking: God 1

When they reach Wang Lung's house, the old man pretends not to notice O-lan, concentrating on the sky. Wang Lung tells O-lan that there will be guests for whom she will need to make food. Guests include Wang Lung's uncle, his son, some farmers, and Ching, his next door neighbor. O-lan cooks, but does not go out because she does not like to appear before men. The guests all praise the good food. Despite his protests to the guests, Wang Lung is proud of the food that O-lan has prepared. After the guests have left, Wang Lung finds O-lan asleep by the ox. Waking her and leading her into the room, Wang Lung shyly undresses himself, telling himself: "There is this woman of mine. The thing is to be done." Chapter 1, pg. 18. After the light has been put out, Wang Lung is suddenly happy. As though self-conscious of what he is about to do, he laughs and seizes O-lan.

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