Summary and Analysis Chapters 18-19


These chapters are marked by the coming of the flood waters after seven years of good harvests. During these seven years, Wang Lung's fortunes have increased, and when, in the seventh year, a great flood covered most of his land, Wang Lung had stocked enough to not be adversely affected by the floods. He had food and money, and his house was on a hill far away from the water. Thus, his foresight has paid off, and as others starved, Wang Lung had plenty.

With the coming of the waters, Wang Lung becomes bored with his house and its members. He cannot work in the fields, his father is growing feebleminded, his little "fool" only makes him sad, and O-lan's body no longer appeals to him. For the first time in his life, he begins to look critically at O-lan and to find fault with her. He realizes that she is a dull and common creature "who plodded in silence . . . her features were too large . . . and her feet were large and spreading."

We also learn that O-lan has "a fire in her vitals." Wang Lung is sincerely moved but still cannot stem the irritation in his breast as he reproaches her for not oiling her hair, and again he is especially annoyed at her hideous "big feet."

Wang Lung leaves for town "without knowing what it was he wished." With increased trips to town, he begins to visit the tea house every day. After several visits, he meets Cuckoo in the tea house. Upon their encounter, she exclaims loudly: "Well, and Wang the farmer!" This encounter makes Wang Lung determined to show her that he is more than a "farmer." He is even half-ashamed that he has only had tea during all of these visits to the tea house, and he is amazed when Cuckoo tells him that she can provide him with his choice of women, the "pictures of dream women, of goddesses in the mountain of Kwen Lwen." By the end of the chapter, what had earlier been a casual appreciation of the pictures turns to a process of selection of the girl whom Wang Lung finds most beautiful.

The series of incidents leading up to Wang Lung's courtship of Lotus Flower in Chapters 18 and 19 is presented by Pearl Buck as totally coincidental happenings. In Chapter 18, she tells us that his boredom with his family and home during the floods "might have been nothing if Wang Lung were still a poor man or if the water were not spread over his fields. But he had money." Later in the chapter, Pearl Buck tells us that he visited the tea house only for diversion and because of his boredom at home, and "so he might have continued for many days on end" had he not met Cuckoo at the tea house.

Chapter 19 begins with a similar statement of chance: "Now if the waters had at that time receded from Wang Lung's land . . . Wang Lung might never have gone again to the great tea shop. Or if a child had fallen ill or the old man had reached suddenly to the end of his days, Wang Lung might have been caught up in the new thing and so forgotten the painted face upon the scroll and the body and the woman slender as a bamboo." Even when Wang Lung had decided to go and meet this beautiful girl, he "hesitated upon the threshold and he stood in the bright light which streamed from the open doors. And he might have stood there and gone away," but out of the shadows came Cuckoo, who said, "Ah, it is only the farmer!"

It was, then, a series of coincidences and Wang Lung's injured pride that made him feel the need to show Cuckoo that he was lordly and rich enough to meet the woman. And it was the silver in his girdle that carried him past the insults of the other girls who disdained his garlicky smell. Throughout this section, Wang Lung is often ashamed of being a country bumpkin, much like his initial visit to town in Chapter 1.

When he is with Lotus Flower, Wang Lung admires her small hands, her long nails, and her delicate feet. All of these things O-lan lacks, but the reader recalls that had O-lan possessed these things, she could not have helped Wang Lung in the fields during the lean years. Nevertheless, Lotus Flower teaches Wang Lung a new kind of love — "a sickness which is greater than any a man can have." Though he constantly desires her, and though "he went in to her and he had his will of her again and again . . . he came away unsatisfied."

As Pearl Buck states it: "there was no health in her for him." All else is subordinated to his love for her. He does not care for Ching's reports of the fields and the receding waters. He spends much of his time taking baths, which contrasts to the ritual bath he took before meeting O-lan, and he even has his braid cut off in order to please Lotus Flower; in contrast to Lotus, O-lan thinks that her husband has cut off his life.

The analogy between Wang and Hwang is drawn for us by O-lan, who, in a tone of scorn, says, "There is that about you which makes me think of one of the lords in the great house." Naturally, Wang Lung, in his present state of mind, takes this as a compliment. And much like the reports that we have of the members of the House of Hwang, Wang Lung lets the silver freely pass through his hands, spending it on jewels and favors for Lotus. Naturally, too, the relationship between Wang Lung and O-lan suffers during this period. O-lan is afraid to speak to him, knowing that his anger is always ready for a woman who "clearly had no beauty of hair or of person." The final insult by Wang Lung is when he takes the two pearls that O-lan has saved between her breasts; he plans to give them to Lotus, stating that "pearls are for fair women!"