Summary and Analysis
With the money which Wang Lung opportunistically received, he immediately makes plans to return to his "good earth" as soon as possible. He buys good seed from the south, even seeds which he has never planted before — such seeds as celery, lotus, and "fragrant red beans." He is so pleased to be returning to his good earth that he pays more for an ox than he should have paid, but his sense of being once again close to his land allows him this extravagance.
When he returns home, he finds that the peach trees and other trees are budding and the land is ready for planting. He receives strength from the land and, "for a long time it seemed to Wang Lung that he wished to see no human being but only to be alone on his land." Again, Pearl Buck emphasizes the importance of the land and how Wang Lung takes his strength from the land.
When Wang Lung's neighbor, Ching, visits him, Wang Lung volunteers to help Ching plow his land. Unlike Wang Lung, who refused as long as possible to sell his "fool," we discover that Ching was forced to give his own daughter away in order to keep her from dying of starvation. Wang Lung has never forgotten that Ching gave O-lan a few beans to chew on so as to get through her labor before they left for the south. At this time also, we discover that rumors associate Wang Lung's uncle with bandits; Wang Lung, however, is only thankful that his uncle is not here. The fact that the uncle is connected with the marauding bandits will later carry greater significance during the winter of the flood, when Wang Lung would have been raided by bandits if his uncle were not a part of the group.
As always, Wang Lung's view of the gods follows the rise and fall of his own fortunes. Now that his fortune is on the rise, he again takes notice of the condition of his gods. He passes them and sees that the rains have washed away their clay faces and that their clothes are in tatters. He mildly reproaches them for their condition, reminding them that this is what happens "to gods who do evil to men!" But at the end of Chapter 15, he takes some incense to the gods because "they have power over earth."
In Chapter 15, we again see the resourceful qualities of O-lan as she repairs tools, the house, and anything else that needs to be done. Also, we discover that she was astute enough to know where the people in great houses keep their riches and was able to grab a large amount of jewels. Once again, Wang Lung is "filled with admiration" for this woman whom he has married. Now Wang Lung wants to use the jewels to buy more land. He feels great security with land because no one can take the land away from a person — "for nothing else is safe" except land.
We see another view of O-lan when she pleads to keep two pearls for herself. She has never had anything so delicate and so beautiful as these exquisite pearls. Wang Lung relents and allows her to keep the pearls, but in Chapters 18 and 19, when he becomes involved with Lotus, he takes them from her, a heartless action which he shall later regret.
Chapter 16 develops the idea that the fall of the House of Hwang is concomitant with the rise of the House of Wang in the next chapters. As Wang Lung approaches the impressive House of Hwang, he is shy, afraid, and reticent. He is still awed in the presence of such wealth. He is yet "half afraid, for all his life he half-feared the people in the great house." We hear also that the sons of old Hwang want him to sell as much of the land as is possible and to send them the money. They have sent word that they "cannot live in such a place. Let us sell and divide the money." Pearl Buck implies that the decline of the great House of Hwang is directly related to leaving and selling the land. A house is corrupted when the members are no longer close to the land. Therefore, Wang Lung resolves that his sons will always be close to the land. Ironically, at the end of the novel, his sons plan to sell the land as soon as they can, thus implying future corruption of the House of Wang.
In a sense, Wang Lung feels that there is something wrong with the demise of such an institution: "And the more he mused, the more monstrous it seemed that the great and rich family, who all his own life and all his father's and grandfather's lives long had been a power and a glory in the town, were now fallen and scattered." He concludes that "it comes of their leaving the land." Wang Lung's last comment in the novel, then, is this: there is extreme importance in remaining on the land.
In Chapter 17, having bought the Hwang land with the jewels, the rise of the House of Wang continues by Wang Lung asking Ching to sell him his land and to move in and be the overseer of Wang Lung's land. Still feeling strongly about the importance of the land, Wang Lung has his sons go with him to the fields, where he tries to teach them how to farm the land.
Since he is now wealthy, he does not allow O-lan to work in the fields with him. Soon, she gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl. And as the House of Wang increases in number, so does his wealth. He has taken care to build his fortunes so securely that when bad years come, he will have enough to carry him through and will never have to leave his lands. He has to hire more laborers every year and must build additions to his house.
As he becomes an important person, he realizes the need to have a son who can read and write because his own illiteracy has not only been a source of embarrassment to him, but it has also put him at the mercy of the grain merchants. Consequently, the first move away from the land occurs when Wang Lung sends his eldest son to school. The second son, upon hearing this, causes so much dissension that Wang Lung lets both of them go to school. And then, for the first time, the two sons are named: Nung En is the eldest and Nung Wen is the second son.