In The Good Earth, Pearl Buck describes the lifestyle and customs of the Chinese through the character of Wang Lung. She also shows the rise of a simple peasant to the enviable position of a wealthy landowner. At the beginning of the novel, Wang Lung, a poor farmer, is ready to marry O-Lan, a slave who is purchased from the great house of Hwang. She is a sturdy, silent woman who has immense resourcefulness.
She is Wang Lung's helpmate throughout the book. Wang Lung and O-Lan, in the span of a few years, have five children. Wang Lung has always believed that the earth is a wonderful provider.
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When he manages to save some silver from his farming efforts, he decides to invest it in the good earth. He buys a parcel of land belonging to the House of Hwang. Wang's Uncle, who is lazy and evil, knows of his nephew's success and repeatedly comes to Wang to beg for help and food. It is the Chinese custom to help relatives, so Wang reluctantly aids him. Unfortunately, a famine strikes, and everyone, including the Wang family, suffers. The Uncle spreads the rumor that Wang is hoarding food and money, which causes the famished villages to plunder Wang's house; but they find nothing, for Wang is also starving and unable to provide for the basic needs of his family. As a result, Wang takes his family and flees to the South, where they eke out a living.
Wang pulls a rickshaw through the streets to earn money. During Wang's stay in the South, the first rumbles of the revolution are heard. One day in Kiangsu, the angry peasants break down the gates of a huge mansion and enter it to plunder and pillage its riches. At first, Wang Lung is unable to steal anything; but when he sees the fat Lord clobbering the peasants, he picks up as much gold as hecan and leaves. Wang returns to his homeland with his family. He keeps buying more and more land from the House of Hwang, which has now fallen into decay.
As his children grow up, his life begins to prosper. Wang educates his first two sons. The eldest, Nun En, marries a girl from a well-bred family. The second son, Nun Wen, becomes a grain.