Summary and Analysis
Wang Lung, who has now lived through more than one drought and more than one flood, swarms of locusts, famines, and other disasters, has never seen a war. The mere fact that he refers to the war as something to be seen re-establishes the fact that he is a simple peasant from the "good earth." The second son advises him not to sell his grain because with the war approaching, they will be able to get a better price. Thus, after having lived through all the other calamities of life and having reached a respected position in society, Wang Lung now must suffer the indignities of having to quarter numerous soldiers who swarmed "out of the northwest like a swarm of locusts."
When Wang Lung first sees the soldiers, he does not even know what the implement is that they carry over their shoulders, and the faces of the men are so fierce that he wants to hurry inside and lock the gates. But before he can do this, the uncle's son sees him and has all of his horde of men move into Wang Lung's courts. Thus again is the uncle's son a source of evil to Wang Lung.
When the second son arrives with reports of how the soldiers will kill a person for the slightest provocation, Wang Lung and his sons realize the seriousness of the matter and immediately move all the women and children into the inner courts. They guard these courts against the soldiers, but in the same way that they could not deny the uncle anything because of family or ancestral ties, so now they must let the uncle's son into their innermost courts, where he insults the wife of the eldest son and makes sexual insinuations with the wife of the second son — a fact that will cause great enmity between the two women.
The uncle's son becomes so obnoxious concerning the females that they decide that it will be necessary to give him a woman while he is there. He chooses the delicate Pear Blossom, the slave whom Wang Lung bought when she was seven years old because she looked so pitiful. He has always felt tender toward her, and, when she falls to her feet begging him not to send her, he searches for another woman or another way to satisfy the uncle's son.
A good healthy slave girl, twenty years old, volunteers, and, for the moon and a half before the uncle's son and the horde of soldiers are called away, he "had the wench" at his will and left after she had conceived by him. Wang Lung was thankful it was only a girl because if it had been a male, then, according to Chinese custom, it would have had a permanent place in the House of Wang.
Wang Lung and his sons agree that every trace of the destruction caused by the soldiers must be removed. Also, being kind-hearted, he tells the slave girl that she can have the room of the uncle's wife who is about to die. Instead, she asks to be wed to a farmer since she has grown accustomed to having a man in her bed. Thus, as soon as the uncle's wife is dead, the slave asks Wang Lung to find her a farmer. Now the story has come full circle because Wang Lung calls the stout fellow who helped Ching and offers him the girl whom he is glad to have because she is stout and can help in the fields. Now Wang Lung sits on his dias and gives instructions — whereas once he stood before this very dias receiving instructions. And whereas he received a stout woman from this house, he is now giving a poor farmer, as he was once a poor farmer, a stout young girl. Whether or not this young couple will flourish as well as did Wang Lung and O-lan is outside the speculations of Pearl Buck's story. Instead, she is emphasizing how Wang Lung himself has completed a cycle in life.
Wang Lung, however, has one last problem before he finds peace in his life. Lotus Flower, who has grown fat and unattractive, accuses Wang Lung of having an affair with little Pear Blossom since he protected her from the uncle's son. Actually, the idea has never occurred to Wang Lung until Lotus Flower mentions it. Then, as he noticed the pretty little slave, something stirs within his loins.
At this time, too, Wang Lung is troubled by another son. The youngest son wants to go away and be a soldier. He has apparently talked with all the soldiers quartered in the house and has heard how they are fighting to free the land. Even though Pearl Buck never says it, all the implications are that these soldiers are part of the Communist forces. Wang Lung has been horrified to hear his youngest son talk in such a way about the land which has always been so sacred to him. But now that he is rich, he offers his son the choice of schools in the South or even the choice of one of the slaves as his mistress. This second offer shows how far Wang Lung has departed from his old ways as a farmer, when he condemned young lords for taking any slave at their whim. Now Wang Lung is doing the same thing until the youngest son maintains that none of the slaves are even worth looking at — unless it is Pear Blossom. A sudden jealousy is aroused in Wang Lung and he is left confused.