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CHAPTER 12

Wang Lung is getting to know the city, taking passengers to schools, markets, and houses of business and pleasure. He smells tempting cooking odors, hears music and the click of dice but never sees what is going on inside buildings. When a street orator calls for revolution against foreigners, Wang is frightened, thinking he and his family are those foreigners.

NOTE: THE BOXER UPRISING

The reference to the oration against foreigners is probably a reference to the movement known as the Boxer Uprising (or Boxer Rebellion), which called for the removal of foreigners from China. Foreign traders had gradually acquired certain rights to do business in China and during the early nineteenth century had forced the Chinese imperial government to grant them more and more concessions by threat of force. The Boxers, as they were called in English, gained popularity and strength by intriguing with the Empress Dowager against the Emperor and in 1899-1900 outbreaks of violence against Europeans occurred. Pearl Buck herself experienced this threat as a little girl. The rebellion was eventually crushed by the intervention of the Western powers and Japan.

One day Wang Lung has a strange-looking passenger-is this male or female?- who turns out to be an American woman. She pays him double the fare and rebukes him for running himself to death. He is amazed at the abundance and variety of food in the markets. Surely no one could starve in this city! Yet every dawn, he and his family join a long line of people for their penny bowl of thin rice gruel at the public kitchens.


In this and the other chapters that describe Wang's sojourn in the city, Pearl Buck analyzes the nature of urban wealth, how it is based on wage labor that dooms the workers to hopeless poverty. Do you think the desperate condition of farmers is different from this? The author also is commenting on the nature of public welfare. Is it suggested that welfare is a permanent condition in cities or only a stopgap in times of crisis? Is there anything else about the description of city life that supports Wang's preference for the land? What about the moral tone?

Even with Wang Lung's work and O-lan's begging, they have enough to cook a little supper in their hut only when the boys have snatched a bit of fuel from a farm wagon. Wang is worried that his second son is becoming adept at stealing. He tells himself that they must get back to the land. But how?

NOTE:

Amid the hardship, Pearl Buck has a little fun in this chapter with the American woman in Wang's riksha. Did Buck sketch herself into this scene, as the film director Alfred Hitchcock always put himself into one of his own scenes? Buck was a tall woman and she may well have worn a long black coat, but she certainly did not speak broken Chinese. Still, one can imagine her telling the riksha puller that he needn't run himself to death. How would you feel, sitting in a carriage pulled by a man so thin he was obviously half-starved? You wouldn't like being pulled by a pitifully thin horse, let alone a man.

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