The Good Earth’s Relationship Between Wang Lung and O-Lan

The relationship between O-lan and Wang Lung is stabilized by O-lan’s hard work and resourcefulness, based largely upon a woman’s inferiority, and threatened by superficial tendencies. Their affiliation also ends romantically with the loss of love and is regretted, in the end, with sufficient sympathy. O-lan proves to be beneficial through means of outdoor labor. In the afternoon she took a hoe and a basket and these upon her shoulder she went to the main road leading into the city where mules and donkeys and horses carried burdens to and fro, and there she picked the droppings from the animals and carried it home and piled the manure in the dooryard for fertilizer for the fields” (Buck 29). O-lan also proves her helpfulness by performing household chores, to much of Wang Lung’s appreciation. “And she took their ragged clothes and with thread herself spun on a bamboo spindle from a wad of cotton she mended and contrived to cover the rents in their winter clothes” (Buck 29).
Although this is true, Wang Lung’s gratitude towards O-lan appears repressed as he constantly hides his feelings for her in the beginning. The protagonist immediately becomes mortified by his affection for O-lan. “And then he was ashamed of his own curiosity and of his interest in her” (Buck 30). Wang Lung subsequently attempts to dissuade these thoughts. O-lan’s aid and usefulness obviously weakens the tension between both spouses and creates a more mutual, stable life at home. Arguments are rarely heard amongst the lips of either husband or wife.
This may be due to O-lan’s unusual quietness. “But she never talked, this woman, except for the brief necessities of life” (Buck 30). This silence almost utterly terminates all heated conversations. However, it also enhances her appearance as a slave and overall working image. “But in the day her clothes, her plain blue cotton coat and trousers, covered all that he knew, and she was like a faithful, speechless serving maid, who is only a serving maid and nothing more” (Buck 30). Women, in ancient cultures are, as shown in The Good Earth, thought to be of lesser value than that of men. She was, after all, only a woman” (Buck 30). On numerous occasions, O-lan is treated as if she is a piece of property obtained by her new husband. “It seemed that during these next months he did nothing except watch this woman of his” (Buck 28). Wang Lung acts this way due to the environment in which he grew from, where both elders and men reign, leaving women at the bottom of the totem pole. Wang Lung’s uncle once questioned, “Have you not heard it said that in the Sacred Edicts it is commanded that a man is never to correct an elder,” (Buck 66).

As the novel progresses, Wang Lung’s thoughts of his wife’s exterior begin to surface as superficial tendencies emerge. He complains of her horrid hair and rough features. “He saw for the first time that her hair was rough and brown and unoiled and that her face was large and flat coarse-skinned, and her features too large altogether and without any sort of beauty or light” (Buck 179-180). These cruel comments are the first slap in the face of O-lan, as Wang Lung’s manly instincts begin to kick in and he discovers beauty abroad.
Lotus enters the story when Wang Lung gives into the temptation of lust. He buys her, despite the fact that he is a married man. Threatening the relationship between O-lan and Wang Lung, Lotus slowly tears the couple apart even more than they were before. Earlier in the novel, during the raid of an aristocrat’s home, O-lan finds many valuable gems within the walls. Once money becomes a necessity, Wang Lung asks for the gems in order to grant them to the House of Hwang in return for additional land.
O-lan is allowed to keep only two of her choosing and she quickly decides on two pearls: And he was moved by something he did not understand and he pulled the jewels from his bosom and unwrapped them and handed them to her in silence, and she searched among the glittering colors, her hard brown hand turning over the stones delicately and lingeringly until she found the two smooth white pearls, and these she took, and tying up the others again, she gave them back to him. (Buck 157-158) These white spheres represent more than just the upcoming twins. They also symbolize Wang Lung’s love for O-lan, no matter how limited it may be.
Once Wang Lung becomes completely entangled inside Lotus’s web of desire, he demands that O-lan give him the pearls at once so he could, in turn, award them to his concubine. This simple act may be construed as Wang Lung’s thievery of his affection for O-lan and Lotus’s gain in the matter. As O-lan begins to die, she utters a phrase that entirely reveals all of her inner thoughts. “Well I know I am ugly and cannot be loved—,” (Buck 277). These ideas show her lack in confidence that may have been even more destroyed with Wang Lung’s brutal behavior and harsh words.
Wang Lung, however, felt guilt beyond measure and “wondered and grieved at himself most of all because what she said was true, and even when he took her hand, desiring truly that she feel his tenderness towards her, he was ashamed because he could feel no tenderness, no melting of the heart such as Lotus could win from him with a pout of her lips” (Buck 277). This not only serves as evidence of Wang Lung’s sympathy towards O-lan and his regret for everything that he induced. It also reiterates the fact that Wang Lung and O-lan’s relationship changed instantaneously as his feelings for Lotus blossomed.

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