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The time for O-lan to give birth draws near. Wang offers to have a woman come to help her from the village or perhaps from the Great House.
For the first time O-lan is angry, and words pour from her. She will return to that house only with her son in her arms, the baby in a red coat and flowered trousers and herself in new shoes and a coat of black satin. She has even counted out what money she will need, just three pieces of silver. Wang gives her four, so that she can make the baby's coat of silk-"After all, he is the first." O-lan, taking the money, says, "It is the first time I have silver money in my hand." Keep in mind this first appearance of silver, a valuable item that isn't land. You may want to consider it a bad omen in light of future events.
O-lan does not want a woman to help her. She works beside Wang in the field until her labor pains begin. He comes in from the field to find that she has put his hot supper on the table, but she endures the birth almost silently behind her closed door. When he hears a baby cry he begs through the door to know if it is a male, and she answers faintly that it is. Only then is he able to sit down and eat his now cold supper.
When at last she calls him in, all trace of the birth has been cleared away and the baby lies beside her, wrapped in a pair of its father's old trousers, as is the custom. Wang's heart is bursting for them both. Tomorrow he will buy red sugar to treat her to a celebratory drink. He will also fashion red-colored eggs to let all the neighbors know that he has a son.
NOTE: THE COLOR RED
To the Chinese even today the color red is associated with happy events like New Year's Day, births, weddings, and anniversaries. Gifts of money are given in red envelopes, red garments are worn, and food or garnishes are red. This is probably the reason we associate the color with the Chinese. A particular shade is known as "Chinese red."
What strength it must have taken for O-lan to face the birth of her first child all alone! Why does she refuse Wang's offer to bring her a woman? Her anger at his mention of someone from the Great House tells you something-she was treated badly there, surely, and she must hate or mistrust the other women slaves. As for a village woman, does she recoil from that because she doesn't know any of them? You are not told. Apparently she has been present at a birth, because she knows she will need a reed, newly peeled and slit at its end "to cut the child's life from mine," that is, to cut the umbilical cord. She also knows that a boy is wrapped in his father's old trousers, a symbol of the child's own future as a father of sons.
The birth of Wang's first son is one of the book's deeply moving passages, with its stark image of a woman alone, dealing single-handedly with the fearful and exalting task of giving birth to a new life. You may well wonder how O-lan could be so sure that her baby would be a boy, when she dreamed of dressing him up to be presented at the Great House. At this point in the story you can't yet know the depth of disappointment if it had been a girl-a "slave" whose birth is an evil omen for a poor family since she cannot take over the land eventually but has to be fed until married and thereafter serves her husband's household.
Another fact of peasant life is revealed in this chapter, and it is a harsh fact indeed. Wang's father recalls the births that Wang's mother endured: a score or more, he forgets how many, and of them all only one-Wang-survived.
At different times Pearl Buck worked closely with Chinese women. For a time she helped at an institution that took in slave girls who had fled cruel owners. Later she helped with her mother's work counseling Chinese women and listening to their problems. It's not surprising that the troubles of women in China find their way into what is mainly the story of a man.