Summary and Analysis
After Wang Lung has somewhat abated his infatuation for Lotus Flower, he is able to return to the land and is "healed of his sickness of love by the good dark earth . . . soft as black sugar . . . and the health of the earth spread into his flesh and he was healed of his sickness." Again, Pearl Buck is emphasizing the powers of the "good earth" to heal Wang Lung and to remind the reader that, when one loses close contact with the "good earth," one is in danger of losing contact with the good qualities of life itself. For example, Wang Lung goes out and eats garlic, an act which would immediately identify him as a plain farmer and a crude person. Yet he laughs about it and decides that he can eat whatever he likes. He is no longer dismayed that people smell garlic on his breath and refer to him in derogatory terms because he is "full of health again and free of the sickness of his love."
As is fitting for a man of Wang Lung's wealth, he is now established in his own rank so that he can place his women in their proper positions — Lotus is his concubine who is to give him pleasure in bed, and O-lan is his wife who has borne him children so as to continue the line of the House of Wang. Also, note that Wang Lung has always been a person who is concerned about the opinion of other people; now, he takes pleasure that the men of the town are talking about him and come to him to hear his opinion about various matters and accept his decisions. Furthermore, he is pleased that the men of the town admire him because he has sufficient money to have a concubine for his own pleasure and to have his sons educated so that they can read and write the Chinese characters.
Chapter 22 also informs the reader that the House of Wang is becoming an important and influential house since even O-lan notes that the eldest son is acting much like one of the young lords in the old House of Hwang, where she was a slave. This comment attests to the rise of Wang Lung: his wife, who was once a slave, is now the mother of sons who conduct themselves like young lords. The young people are growing further and further away from the "good earth."
As Wang Lung recognizes that his son is acting like a young lord, he decides to marry him off quickly. At first, he cannot understand why his son acts as he does because he knows that he himself never had such desires. Then he remembers that he never had any leisure time; he worked constantly and, therefore, never had the time to develop lascivious desires.
When Wang Lung mentions his eldest son's problem to Lotus Flower, she tells of a grain merchant in town who has a suitable daughter. She then says that Cuckoo knows all things, and, when Cuckoo is called, we learn that it is Liu, the grain dealer to whom Wang Lung has always sold his grain. Cuckoo wants to arrange the entire affair since there will be a handsome fee involved.
To make matters worse, Wang Lung finds out that the uncle's son has been taking Wang Lung's eldest son to see a prostitute, Yang, and Wang Lung goes to her and promises her twice her fee if she refuses to see his son again. Wang Lung is now determined to throw his uncle out of his house, but when he confronts him, the uncle shows Wang Lung an undershirt which depicts a read beard, and, immediately, Wang Lung knows that his uncle is an important official with the local group of marauding bandits. He realizes that if he throws his uncle out, he will be pillaged by this group; the only reason that he has enjoyed relative safety these past few years is because his uncle has protected him. Thus, he is trapped into giving further protection and boarding to his uncle and his family. At this point, Wang Lung, "when the affairs of his house became too deep for him, he took a hoe and went to his fields." He became healthy again through contact with the "good earth." For that same season, he had to endure the attack of a brood of swarming locusts, but some of his crops survived, and, in the meantime, Wang Lung is concerned only with his land. All else is unimportant to him.
The eldest son now wants to continue his education in the southern part of China. Wang Lung feels that his son knows enough for this part of the country. His desire to go south is correlated with Lotus Flower, who, we learn later, has been talking to the son even though she pretends that it is Cuckoo who has given her the information. O-lan, who rarely says anything, reports to Wang Lung that she thinks that the eldest son goes too often into the inner courts. Wang Lung then sets a trap to see if the eldest son does indeed go into the inner courts where Lotus lives. When he discovers the truth, he beats the son unmercifully. To the Western reader, this act might seem strange, but in Chinese law, the father is the supreme authority and, if a son raised his hand against a father, the son could be put to death. Also for the first time, Wang Lung beats Lotus Flower, an act which creates a definite change between the two people.