Summary and Analysis
In this section, Wang Lung and his family are plagued with bad luck which overshadows even the good fortune of the preceding section. In Chapter 7, Wang Lung's uncle begins to be the "trouble which Wang Lung had surmised from the beginning that he might be." Throughout this section, the uncle takes advantage of the claims of relationship which he holds over Wang Lung by asking him for a dowry for his daughter in Chapter 7 and for food during the drought in Chapter 8.
To justify these demands, the uncle calls himself a "man of evil destiny." Here, he brings this evil to Wang Lung's house. By the end of Chapter 7, Wang Lung is struck with a sense of evil as his third child is born a daughter, one who does not belong to her parents, but is "born and reared for other families." Chapter 7 is concluded by the "evil omen" of a flock of crows.
Drought in Chapter 8 plagues the whole village. Again the uncle brings trouble to the family of Wang Lung with claims of "filial impiety" and rumors that Wang Lung is hoarding food. O-lan is again with child, a child which Wang Lung especially dreads as the famine intensifies. It is declared fortunate that it dies soon after birth. Now we see an angry Wang Lung, cursing the Old Man in Heaven, spitting on the gods at the temple of earth, but defiantly hanging onto life for himself and his family.
After the first year's drought, Wang Lung sells his meager harvest immediately instead of saving it to sell when the prices go up during the winter. With the profit, he buys another piece of land and does not tell even O-lan about it. This time, when he goes to see the agent for the House of Hwang, Wang Lung is placed on a position closer to equality because the House of Hwang is in desperate need of money. Consequently, the "evil times" have made the two families more equal.
The land — the earth — remains for Wang Lung the most important thing of his life. Even though his family is starving, he still feels the importance of the land. He knows that if he had silver that the townspeople would have stolen it from him but "they cannot take the land from me." And when his uncle comes with some opportunists, Wang Lung still refuses to sell his land: "I shall never sell the land. . . . Bit by bit I will dig up the fields and feed the earth itself to the children and when they die I will bury them in the land, and I and my wife and my old father, even he, will die on the land that has given us birth." Then, by selling their household effects, they get a meager two pieces of silver and begin their journey to the south.
Wang Lung's uncle and Ching, the neighboring farmer, are further developed in this chapter. The uncle is the most vicious and evil person in the novel. Wang Lung was earlier embarrassed that the uncle allowed his fifteen-year-old daughter to walk the streets talking to men. He is also ashamed that his uncle carries the same name as he does. The uncle is the person responsible for the townspeople pillaging Wang Lung's house, and, even after causing the pillaging, he still brings some opportunists to see Wang Lung. In addition, the uncle still uses his family ties to demand money from Wang Lung.
In contrast, Ching feels guilty about his role in the pillaging, and we hear that he would not have participated if extreme hunger had not forced him to do so. Ching atones for his participation by giving a few beans to Wang Lung. This act will later make Ching a trusted and favored person in Wang Lung's eyes, whereas Wang Lung will forever resent everything about his uncle.
The lowest point in Wang Lung's life is reached in this chapter when he has to bury his own child. He is so weak himself that when he notices the two bruised spots on the child's neck, obviously made when O-lan put the child out of her existence, he cannot even make a judgment about the situation. When he has not the strength to bury the child and has to leave it, he knows that the starving dog will eat it immediately. He is, "for the first time, wholly filled with despair."