Summary and Analysis Chapters 10-11


The first sentence of Chapter 10 emphasizes the relationship between Wang Lung and the land. He can leave his house in order to go south and do no more than "pull the door right upon its wooden hinges and fasten the iron hasp." And in Chapter 15, when he returns, he takes up the land as he left it. This resumption emphasizes the continuation of the land with the owner. Wang Lung and his family have been gone for a few years, and yet when they return, the land is still intact and is still theirs.

Note here that Wang Lung's religion fluctuates with his personal fortunes. Earlier, when he was fortunate, he gave incense to the little earth gods. Now that he is forced to leave his land, he walks right by the "little temple with the two small stately gods within, who never notice anything that passed." Wang Lung's religion is not a coherent set of beliefs — instead, it is the combination of many types of superstitions that are common to a primitive person.

Wang Lung passes the House of Hwang and is bitter about the fortunes of the rich. Later on, we must remember that he gets rich because he and O-lan participate in the pillaging of a house of a rich lord in the "southern city" and that still further on, when Wang Lung's wealth is established, he is also invaded by an army of revolutionaries. The "thousand curses to the parents that bore the children of Hwang" will ultimately become a type of curse on the House of Wang, particularly as Wang's children begin to revolt against their father.

Wang Lung's provincialism is also emphasized in this chapter as he acknowledges that he has heard of "firewagons" (trains), but he has never seen one, much less ridden on one. Again, as in the title, Pearl Buck is emphasizing the relationship of the farmer with his good earth. As Wang Lung says in this chapter, it is not "well for a man to know more than is necessary for his daily living." The main concern of this first part of the novel is the matter of ekeing out the necessities for everyday living.

As they leave their home and village, we are made aware that the little girl child is in dire circumstances. The starvation which accompanies her early years will have a disastrous effect on her. The fact that Wang Lung has to hold her so close to his breast prevents him from selling her as a "slave" later on when the family gets into critical straits. And it is also this starvation which later leads to her being mentally ill, yet Wang Lung will always take pleasure in her presence, even after he has gained great wealth.

With Chapter 11, the reader feels the intense relief that, for the first time in days, the family is able to buy a little rice for sustenance. Also, they learn how to make a shelter out of six mats and ultimately how to survive in the new land. They also learn how a man can beg for a living. This entire concept is alien to Wang Lung, who has owned his own land. The stranger laughs, saying that a man can make more money begging than working in the south. So it is, at the end of the chapter, for much money has been made by begging as was made by the totally exhausting work which left Wang Lung's hands ripped to shreds and his body enervated. But as one who owns land in another part of the country, he retains those values which are associated with the land and he will not resort to begging.

The strength of O-lan serves the family well here since she is able to remember when her own family was in a situation similar to the one they are now in. For the first time, we hear that O-lan was once in a position as desperate as they are now in. She knows how to build their house from the mats, and she teaches the family how to beg. When the children don't realize the desperate circumstances, she slaps them until they are "fit to beg." We are constantly surprised at the amount of resources that O-lan has. Once more, Wang Lung is surprised at her: "How much there was of this woman he did not know!"

Many things surprise Wang Lung about the city, but most of all, he is surprised at the plentitude. Unlike his homeland, where no amount of money could buy food simply because it did not exist, here there are well-fed people, meat and vegetables in the markets, and fresh fish swimming in tubs of water. Surely no man could starve in this land of plenty. They have so much food, as the man on the "firewagon" said early in Chapter 11, that for a penny one can have as much white rice gruel as his belly can hold.

Perhaps more surprising for Wang Lung is the fact that there are people that give to the poor. Surely, Wang Lung feels, these must be the best of men; surely they "must do it out of a good heart." But the guard better expresses the true motives of the gentry when he says that they do it "for a good deed for the future" or that they "may get merit in heaven" or "for righteousness that men may speak well of them." This guard's cynicism and bitterness toward the gentry sets the tone for the undercurrents of revolution in the following chapters.

The importance of family ties is again emphasized in this section when Wang Lung's father refuses to beg for food. The father points out that he has done his duty by siring a "son and son's sons"; thus it would be an insult to family ties to expect him to beg.