Summary and Analysis
At the end of Chapter 2, O-lan announced that she was "with child." Beginning with Chapter 3, Wang Lung immediately begins to assume that the child will be a "man child." As we are soon to learn, a girl child was considered a burden, if not a disgrace, whereas a man child was a benefit to the family. This concept develops mainly out of Chinese customs and their religion of ancestor worship. If a man has sons, he never has to worry — his sons will take care of him. Furthermore, this belief is so strong that a son has virtually no rights of his own as long as his father is alive. Even Wang Lung's uncle can bully or hit Wang Lung, and, according to religion and custom, Wang Lung can do nothing but accept this relationship status. We know that he secretly resents his uncle, but, publicly, he cannot oppose him.
O-lan's character is further developed in these chapters. Previously, we saw her working side by side with Wang Lung while, at the same time, taking care of the house and cooking. Now we see that she works in the fields until she comes into labor. We see that she is a very proud woman because she refuses to have anyone from the House of Hwang help her during childbirth. Wang Lung tells her that even his own mother had help during childbirth, but she stubbornly refuses to have anyone help her. The only help she requests is a newly peeled and slit reed to "cut the child's life from mine." Even in the midst of labor, she takes time to prepare food for Wang Lung and his father. It is now that Wang Lung discovers that "she was a woman such as is not commonly found." She then retires to the room to give birth to her baby, and she even cleans up after giving birth before she calls Wang Lung to come and see his man child. Early in the novel, then, Pearl Buck establishes O-lan as an exceptional person, one who is proud, independent, stubborn, and resourceful.
With the help of O-lan, their resourcefulness and frugality begin to pay off. Unlike most other women, O-lan makes their own shoes, she repairs all of the broken pots, and she mends the clothing while Wang Lung is repairing the tools and mending the farm equipment. In terms of food, O-lan is an expert at making a little bit go a long way. Wang Lung is pleased that he does not have to spend money on fuel because O-lan collects wood, and the land is improved because she collects the droppings of horses and donkeys in the road.
By the end of Chapter 4, Wang Lung has saved enough money that he can now "walk with his fellows . . . at ease with himself and with all." The change is seen even further when he returns in Chapter 6 to the House of Hwang. He is now dressed in a new black cloth suit, which O-lan has made, in addition to the clothing for the newborn child. When Wang Lung reaches the door of the House of Hwang, his inner assurance creates new respect from the gateman. As a contrast to the time when he first came and the gateman made fun of him, he is now seated in the gateman's house and is presented tea, which he scorns "as though it were not good enough in quality" for him.
This new assurance is also seen when he refers to Hwang's land as though he were an equal to Hwang or as though he were referring to Ching's land — Ching being the neighboring farmer who will later become Wang Lung's overseer. And, finally, at the end of Chapter 6, Wang Lung is able to buy a piece of land that belongs to the House of Hwang, which signals the beginning of the descent of the House of Hwang and the rise of the House of Wang.
It is important to note in this chapter that, for the Chinese, the color "red" carried special significance and was used in all types of ceremonies. Wang Lung gets some red dye to color the eggs in celebration of the birth of his first son. O-lan wants to dress her son in red silk before carrying him before the Old Mistress. In weddings of affluence, the bride is always dressed in red. In Chapter 5, to celebrate the new year, red paper is used to make good luck signs and to make new clothes for the gods. Red signs are put on the doorway and on various items of furniture, and the people burn two red candles on the event of the new year.
As a simple peasant, Wang Lung has no consistent religious pattern in his life. Instead, he uses various aspects of several religions. Mainly, however, he is concerned with superstitions and evil omens. When he thinks in Chapter 5 that he is too lucky to have such a child, he begins to refer to the child as an ugly girl because the evil spirits will not be interested in a mere girl. These fears come to Wang Lung as a result of the rumors that the House of Hwang is in trouble. He therefore wants to ward off any evil spirits which might affect his rise.
By the end of Chapter 6, O-lan has given birth to a second son, and Wang Lung does not feel the need this time to celebrate because he now realizes that O-lan has brought him exceptional good fortune and that there will be sons every year. Note here, too, that the harvest is better than ever, and the piece of rice land that he bought from the House of Hwang yielded much more than his own land.