Summary and Analysis
These chapters continue to show how Wang Lung becomes a wealthy and powerful man. This wealth is accomplished as a result of several factors. First, a great flood comes at a time when Wang Lung had given over the entire management to Ching and "had scarcely thought whether [he] had land or not these days except to bury the dead in." As Wang Lung goes out to inspect the land, he again curses the evil of the gods. This frightens Ching, who seems to be more in awe of the gods than Wang Lung.
As the waters cover the land, famine sets in. There is only a small portion of the land that can be planted. And as the waters remain, there is no chance to plant land for the next season; "everywhere people starved and were hungry and were angry at what had befallen them." When the waters do not recede in time to plant the wheat for winter, it is evident that there will be no harvest next year. For the first time in ages, Wang Lung takes control and begins to ration out what is needed for the household. Only to Lotus Flower will he allow more than the bare essentials.
Wang Lung, however, has more wealth than most people suspect: there is silver hid in many places about the house. And he is able to deceive everyone — except his uncle. Wang Lung is constantly annoyed that he is under such strict obligations to his uncle because he knows that if it had not been for his uncle's power with the robbers that his house would have been ransacked long ago. Never has he so resented having to give out silver. The resentment is so strong that the eldest son suggests they drown the uncle. But Wang Lung is a very honorable man and cannot tolerate such an act. They discover a ploy whereby they will keep the uncle and his wife there but will render them helpless — they will buy opium for them and, once addicted, neither will be a nuisance. This decision points out that once one is a great family corruption begins to enter in. We should remember the description of the Ancient Mistress when Wang Lung went to get O-lan. She was literally consumed by opium, as eventually the uncle and his wife will be.
After the uncle's son tries to attack Wang Lung's youngest daughter, he goes to see Liu, the grain merchant to whose son the daughter is promised, and tells him: "Since she is to be your family, let her virginity be guarded here." This fact further demonstrates the insignificant position of women in the Chinese family. After Wang Lung takes his thirteen-year-old daughter to Liu's house, he never sees her again for the rest of his life even though they live only a short distance across town. Furthermore, he rarely thinks of her.
After freeing himself of his anxiety for his youngest daughter, he turns his attention to solving his next problem — the uncle and the uncle's wife. He approaches the problem in a most casual manner, bringing opium to them and off-handedly saying that it is only a little something that he once bought for his own ailing father. As they become addicted, Wang Lung does not object to the silver which he has to spend because it brings him peace of mind — the one thing he has desired throughout his lifetime.
This use of opium also represents one of the final phases in the establishment of the House of Wang as a powerful house. As the waters recede, people return to the land, and Wang Lung loans some money at great interest rates, sells seeds at great profits, and buys land "dirt cheap." In one day, he buys five slaves because he is a rich man and can now afford it. All are about twelve years old and fully capable of doing good work around the courts. Then, a few days later, he buys a seven-year-old girl because he is touched by "her pretty frightened eyes and her piteous thinness." This girl is Pear Blossom; she will be the last person to share his bed. Thus the House of Wang becomes powerful through the acquisition of more land, more profits, and the addition of six slaves to its courts.
With all of the above good fortune, Wang Lung expects to find peace in his house, but he does not, and, again, it is because of his uncle's son and his own eldest son. The original antagonism caused by the uncle's son peeping at the eldest son's wife is still the basic cause of the trouble. Now the cousin also walks around the new slaves improperly attired. The eldest son feels this is a negative reflection upon the rising House of Wang, which is now gradually moving away from the land and into prominence. As he tells Wang Lung, his cousin's conduct "is unseemly in my father's house."
The solution to the problem, according to the eldest son, is for the immediate family to move into town, particularly into the inner courts of the House of Hwang, knowing the effect this will have on his father. The mere mention of this great house causes Wang Lung to remember how he trembled and how he could barely talk the first time he entered. Now he ponders how he "could sit on that seat where the old one sat and from whence she bade me stand like a serf, and now I could sit there and so call another into my presence." Thus, Wang Lung's ultimate decision to move to the House of Hwang is not caused by his eldest son's wishes or the actions of his uncle's son, but because he feels greatness in a place where he once felt so completely subdued.
When Wang Lung consults his second son, this son is pleased the move will allow him to marry and move into the family home. However, the contrast between the two sons is again emphasized as the second son wants a wife who is completely different from the wife of the eldest son.
Astounded at his second son and also pleased with him, Wang Lung goes to look at the old House of Hwang and, upon inspection, decides to rent it. Now Wang Lung is rapidly approaching the position held by the Old Lord at the beginning of the novel — the head of the most powerful house of the province.