O-lan is as basic as Wang Lung. On her wedding day, when she humbly follows Wang Lung home, she is seen as a model, in some ways, of the perfect Chinese wife. She is humble and subservient; in fact, she is so quiet that Wang Lung never knows what she is thinking. However, she is so resourceful that Wang Lung is constantly surprised at her ability to adapt to all new situations. For example, she knows how to make a shanty out of mats, and, when the big mansion is raided, she knows where the rich lords might likely keep their jewels.
Part of her strength and resourcefulness is seen when she delivers her own children. At the birth of the first child, she works in the fields with Wang Lung until it is time for the birth. She asks only for a sharp reed in order to cut the child's "life from mine." Immediately after the birth, she returns to the fields to help with the harvest. This contrasts greatly with the delivery of Wang Lung's first grandchild, who causes a great disturbance in the great house before it is delivered.
To understand the contrast between the humility of O-lan in the first part of the novel and the stoic abilities of O-lan at the end of the novel, we have to re-evaluate the situation. The pride we see in O-lan in the later chapters of the novel can be traced to having been brought up as a slave and abused in a great house and rising to become Wang Lung's wife with sons of her own. This is more important to her than physical beauty.