by Pearl S. Buck
The story begins when Wang Lung, a poor Chinese farmer, goes to the house of a rich family in the next village in search of a bride. The girl whom Wang Lung is seeking is a maid and slave in the household of the Huangs, a wealthy aristocratic family. Her name is O-Lan. The Huang House, like any other local family, is on the verge of breakdown as a result of excessive use of alcohol, drugs, and opiates; an unwillingness to engage in productive labour; and unrestrained luxury.
O-Lan and Wang Lung, who are not very attractive but healthy, put in a lot of hard work on the little portion of land that they possess, and with the money that they make, they gradually purchase the property that belongs to the Huang family.
During this time, O-Lan has six children, three boys and three girls.Their oldest daughter, a girl, was born with mental disabilities as a result of severe malnutrition brought on by a famine caused by climate change at the time. Although she is the most beloved of her father, Wang Lung, she is never given a name in the novel except Poor Fool, as he affectionately calls her. O-Lan takes her second daughter’s life shortly after she is born.It’s possible that she came to the conclusion that she did not want another child to be born into this cruel and hungry world.
After enduring years of drought and starvation, Wang Lung and his family are contemplating moving to a larger city in the hopes of finding employment there. It has been determined that Wang Lung’s property and land will be purchased by one of his uncles. On the other hand, the clever guy is ready to pay a very little price. After selling everything they had except their property, Wang Lung and his family headed south in the direction of the large city. Wang Lung and his family quickly come to the conclusion that they cannot afford to make this trek on foot with his old father and children. Fortunately, Wang Lung discovers that he may ride the “train” to the city for a little charge.
When Wang Loong first arrives in the city and secures employment as a rickshaw puller, Wang Lung’s father, wife, and children decide to beg for money throughout the city in an effort to supplement their income. This portion of the book shows the situation of ordinary people who are bound to move to the city because they have lost their means of survival in the rural area and the negative impacts of urbanisation very clearly. The man who was uprooted from their hamlet and forced into the city is Wang Lung’s father. He is also on the streets of the city, hunting for alms, but all he does is stare up at the sky, and he is unable to make a single penny. They were total strangers among the people that lived in the city, who were constantly running about their business and chattering.
Although their condition was at the bottom of what can be thought of as poverty, they did not starve to death as they received kanjipaya for one cent from the volunteer organisation in the city. Wang Loong desperately wants to go back to his own village and to his own land.
The army has reached the city. Wang Leung now works only at night, fearing that he too will be called up for military service. This work was to transport heavy goods to various locations.
Once their children steal some meat from somewhere, Wang Lung throws it away, angry at the thought of his children growing up to be thieves. Without saying anything to Wang Lung, O-lan takes the piece of meat he threw away and cooks it.
The next day, Wang Lung and Oh-Lan find themselves in the middle of a riot that breaks out in the city. The mob is advancing, looting the houses of the rich. Wang Lung, who arrives at a rich man’s house with the crowd, is told by the owner that he will pay all his money if he is rescued. O-Lan finds a box full of gems and precious stones in another room of the same house.
Wang Lung and his family use the wealth to return to their native village, where they purchase oxen and farming tools and employ workers to work on the family farm. Wang Lung purchases the remaining property from the Huang family using the proceeds from the sale of the diamonds and jewels that belonged to O-Lan. Oh-lan claims that she only wants the two pearls that she has kept for herself.
He also sends his older sons to school. The third son is kept with him to handle agricultural matters.
Since Wang Loong’s wealth has increased, he decides to purchase a new concubine called Lotus. O-Lan could not bear it when Wang Lung took the two pearls that O-Lan had kept for herself and made them into earrings to please the young and beautiful Lotus. Mentally and physically exhausted, she falls ill and dies soon after. He is deeply saddened by her death, realising how much Oh-Lan was worth and how much she was an integral part of his life.
After relocating to the city, Wang Lung and his family decide to rent a home from the Hwang family. Both of the older sons have found partners in marriage. Wang Lung, who is now elderly and forgetful, would rather spend his last days in the comfort of his own house. However, there was never a peaceful time in the home since his oldest sons and their spouses were always fighting with each other.
Wang Lung’s third son is now serving in the army. Wang Lung overhears his elder sons plotting to sell his hard-earned fields. The novel ends with his children smiling at each other without seeing him and telling him to do as he wishes, asking him not to sell them.
The old man’s tears dried on his face, leaving salty marks there. “He bent down and scooped up a handful of dirt and muttered.”
“If you sell the land, it is the end.”
“His two sons held him on either side, comforting him and saying this over and over again.”
“Rest assured, our father, rest assured.” “The land is not to be sold.”
“But over the old man’s head they looked at each other and smiled.”