Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-21


These two chapters continue with the love that possesses Wang Lung. It is, however, modified by the arrival of Wang Lung's uncle. In China, where ancestor worship is the main type of worship, Wang Lung resents his uncle and his uncle's intrusion, but he knows also that "it is a shame to a man when he has enough and spare to drive his own father's brother and son from the house." Consequently, Wang Lung now has three more people living in the house.

Wang Lung himself cannot quench his passion for Lotus Flower and does not know what to do next, as he is consumed in his love for this dainty person. The solution comes, ironically, from his uncle's wife, whom he overhears talking to O-lan. The uncle's wife sees immediately what no one else has observed--that Wang Lung is having an affair with another woman. When she casually mentions that someone as wealthy as Wang Lung has every right to buy a concubine, the solution to Wang Lung's problem becomes obvious: he will buy Lotus Flower and keep her as his concubine. Wang Lung even relies on his uncle's wife to complete all the transactions while he sees to the building of another court that will house Lotus Flower and Cuckoo. He even builds goldfish ponds and buys delicate food.

The contrast between the earlier arrival of O-lan (and her big feet) walking behind Wang Lung and the arrival of Lotus Flower in a closed sedan chair is interesting. Without O-lan, Wang Lung would never have been able to afford his concubine at this stage of his life, and yet his main attraction to Lotus Flower is her small feet, which are so delicate that she cannot stand on them for a long period of time; she walks "tottering and swaying upon her little feet and leaning upon Cuckoo." Thus Chapter 20 concentrates upon Wang Lung's all-consuming passion for Lotus Flower.

Chapter 21 shows this passion being somewhat abated — at least to the point that it does not totally occupy Wang Lung's life. And, whereas he expected trouble from O-lan about the arrival of Lotus Flower, his main trouble comes as a result of the presence of Cuckoo. O-lan dismisses Lotus Flower with a single comment: "and to that one you gave my two pearls"; however, she cannot abide the concept that Cuckoo is in her house because Cuckoo was a slave in the House of Hwang and ordered O-lan about and constantly insulted her. O-lan's hatred is so great that she will not even boil water for Cuckoo; thus Wang Lung has to build a separate kitchen for Lotus Flower and Cuckoo.

Wang Lung's love begins to cool when he first discovers that Lotus Flower likes his uncle's wife and doesn't want him to come to her when the uncle's wife is visiting with her: "his love cooled a little, although he did not know it himself . . . and so his love for Lotus was not whole and perfect as it had been before, absorbing utterly his mind and his body."

When the twins take the "fool" into Lotus Flower's court and she screams at them, Wang Lung becomes angry at her for the first time, and "he was most angry of all that Lotus Flower dared to curse this child of his" because throughout the novel, he seems to have very special feelings for his "fool," fearing for her as he approaches death at the end of the novel.

Wang Lung is not completely comfortable with Lotus Flower and is somewhat ashamed when his ancient father discovers her in one of the courts and screams out that there is a "harlot in the house." Until the death of O-lan, and even afterward, he has twinges of conscience about his relationship with Lotus Flower even though this was a perfectly acceptable situation for a man of Wang Lung's standing.

At the end of the chapter, Wang Lung has recovered enough from his love for Lotus Flower to be able to take his hoe and go into the fields to work, symbolizing the healing power of the earth for him.