The Good Earth Plot Summary
The novel begins on the day of Wang Lung's marriage. The woman he will be getting as his wife has been a slave since being a young girl at the great House of Hwang. Wang Lung, a humble, poor peasant farmer, goes to the great house to get his woman. O-lan is plain looking, dull, and slow, but she is hard working, thrifty, and resourceful. One day, she tells Wang Lung that she is with child, and later gives birth to a boy by herself. Winter comes, and Wang Lung is ready because of the good harvest he has had. There is a surplus of silver that he hides in a hole in his bedroom.
The New Year comes, and on the second day, O-lan visits the House of Hwang with the first born baby. The great house is not as prosperous as it has been before, and Wang Lung decides to buy some of their land with the extra silver he has hidden in his hole. Spring comes, and O-lan is again with child, giving birth to another boy. Again, Wang Lung's harvests are good, and he hides more silver in the hole. Wang Lung's own status in the village grows as a result of his prosperity.
One day, Wang Lung's uncle, a lazy old man, comes to ask for money for his daughter's wedding dowry. On the same day, O-lan gives birth to a third child-this time, a girl. Wang Lung is hit with a sense of evil. All during the summer, rain does not come, and the fields dry up. A period of famine follows. Soon, O-lan is big with yet another child, but the famine continues. Wang Lung, unable to bear it anymore, suddenly decides that he and his family will go south. O-lan gives birth, but the baby is dead when Wang Lung comes to look at it. Later, as he is wrapping the body to bury it, he notices bruise marks around its neck.
The next day, Wang Lung's uncle comes to make him sell his land, but he does not sell it, determined to return. Wang Lung and his family walk through the town, and get on a train that takes them to a southern city. At the city, they build a hut along the wall of a big house. O-lan and the children beg for money, and Wang Lung works as a ricksha puller. Wang Lung constantly longs for his land. One day, the gates of the wealthy family's house are opened to the poor, and the commoners swarm in to loot the property. Wang Lung, swept into the innermost court of the house, discovers a frightened rich man from whom he demands money. With the gold he received from the man, Wang Lung is finally able to return home.
When Wang Lung gets home, he finds the house in a bad condition, but he and his family work to make repairs. O-lan is again with child, and the family has enough to eat before the next harvest. One night, Wang Lung finds a pouch of jewels between O-lan's breasts. She tells him that she found them in the wealthy man's house. Taking the jewels from O-lan, except for the two pearls she wishes to keep for herself, Wang Lung buys more land from the House of Hwang.
Ching comes to live with Wang Lung as his steward. O-lan gives birth again-this time, to two children, a boy and a girl. Wang Lung's eldest daughter, on the other hand, does not act her age, never saying anything. The two eldest sons are sent to school to be educated.
On the seventh year, there is a flood, and the fields are filled with water. Wang Lung becomes idle, not having anything to do on his land. He goes to a great teahouse to pass time, and is tempted to visit a beautiful girl named Lotus with whom he becomes enchanted.
Wang Lung's uncle, whom he has not seen for long, comes back with his family. The uncle's wife realizes that Wang Lung is sick with love for another woman, and offers to arrange the union between himself and Lotus. On a hot summer day, Lotus comes to his house with her serving woman, Cuckoo.
Realizing that his eldest son is now a grown boy, Wang Lung decides that the time has come for the son to be married. After learning that his son visits a whore, Wang Lung goes to the prostitute, paying her not to see his son anymore. When he angrily complains to his uncle that the uncle's son has led the eldest son into corruption, the old man threateningly shows Wang Lung that he is a member of a fearful bandit group, and Wang Lung cannot do anything to drive his uncle out.
Liu, a grain merchant, agrees to the union between his daughter and the son of Wang Lung, but is not willing to do anything for now except sign papers. One day, a small cloud hangs over the sky, and locusts fall over the land. Forgetting everything, Wang Lung and his workers try to save the fields from the locusts. As a result of hard work, the best of the lands are spared.
One day, Wang Lung's eldest son comes to tell him that he wishes to go south for more learning. After catching his son with Lotus, Wang Lung beats the boy savagely, and decides to send the lustful, wandering adolescent south. Wang Lung takes the second son out of school and makes him an apprentice under Liu. While arranging the apprenticeship of the second son, Wang Lung also discusses marrying his second daughter to the son of Liu.
Wang Lung notices that O-lan is constantly in pain. The doctor comes to the house, and tells him that O-lan is very sick and will die. When the New Year approaches, however, O-lan regains enough strength to train her daughter-in-law to prepare food. O-lan tells Wang Lung that she wishes to see her son married before she dies. The eldest son is called from the city, and the ceremony is held. At the end of the day, O-lan dies, and not long after, Wang Lung's old father also dies.
After the wedding and the funeral, there is a flood and a famine follows. Wang Lung's uncle and his wife become increasingly demanding, knowing that they provide protection for Wang Lung's house. To guard his daughter from the uncle's son, Wang Lung decides to send her to the home of her betrothed. Wang Lung buys opium for his uncle and his wife to make them helpless and quiet. The waters wane in the fields, and winter lapses away into summer. Wang Lung buys land and daughters from the people who have returned from the south. He learns that his eldest daughter-in-law is with child.
One day, his eldest son suggests that the family move to the vacant great house in town. Wang Lung agrees, liking the idea of living in a house where a great family used to live. Leaving the uncle and his wife, Wang Lung's family moves to the house in town. Ching goes looking for a suitable maiden for the second son, and finds a girl three villages away. Soon, the second son's wedding day is set.
Fortunately for Wang Lung, the uncle's son goes off to a war in the north, and soon after, his first grandson is born. Wang Lung spends more time in his town house, rarely going out to his land and gradually renting out parcels of his land to tenants. After Ching dies of old age, Wang Lung does less and less of going to see his lands, eventually renting all of them out and permanently moving into the house in town.
Soon, all of the courts in the great house are rented for Wang Lung's family and the commoners in the outer courts are driven out. Because the third son does not wish to remain on the land as a farmer, Wang Lung reluctantly engages a tutor for the boy. The wife of the eldest son continuously and faithfully bears children, and the second son's wife also gives birth. One day, Wang Lung's uncle is found dead. Wang Lung moves the uncle's wife to the house in town.
One day, the son of Wang Lung's late uncle, who has become a soldier, comes to stay at Wang Lung's house with other soldiers. Although the fierce soldiers ravage the house, there is nothing that can be done. Luckily, however, the uncle's son soon leaves when the army moves out of the city.
Wang Lung begins to feel a secret yearning for one of the slaves who is a pale, delicate girl. Pear Blossom reciprocates this love by saying that she likes old men. The third son, who initially expressed an interest in Pear Blossom, leaves home to become a soldier. Wang Lung loves Pear Blossom, but his love for her gradually turns into the love of a father for his daughter. Pear Blossom patiently serves Wang Lung who is now a very old man. Wang Lung leads a quiet, isolated life in his court, seldom visiting Lotus and hearing about his family from Cuckoo. Although many things have changed, his love for the land is constant. As the time nears for him to die, Wang Lung decides to move back to his house on the land with Pear Blossom, his "poor fool," and some servants. One day, he follows his two sons out to the land. When he hears them making plans to sell the land, Wang Lung becomes hysterical, crying that the selling of the land will be the end of the family. Although the sons assure their father that they will not sell the land, they look over his head and secretly smile at one another.