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Wang Lung and his family are on their way home. He has bought good seed for some luxury crops as well as the basics. In his joy he pays too much for an ox that takes his fancy. At the house, his farm tools, the door, and the thatch are all gone. His neighbor Ching tells him that a robber band, with whom Wang's uncle had some connection, had lived in the house. The uncle sold his daughter and left with his wife and son, no one knows where. Ching's wife died of starvation and he gave his daughter to a soldier to keep her alive. Ching himself, thin as a shadow and barely alive, has nothing left. Wang gives his friend seed and will bring his ox to help plow and plant Ching's field.
With O-lan, Wang goes into the town to buy furniture and farm tools. He also buys a new paper god of wealth to hang on the wall, along with candlesticks, an incense urn, and thick red candles to burn before it. He seems to forget his loyalty to the land and he speaks angrily to the little earth gods in the field. Later, however, fearful for his new happiness, he decides to win them over and burns some incense to them.
In this happy scene, you find in rich detail how Wang Lung restores his house and land, how he repays Ching who shared with him his last few beans, and how he sets up a shrine to give thanks to the god of wealth. His familiar relationships with the small field gods add the kind of comedy that Pearl Buck manages to draw out of her situations without seeming to make fun of her characters. You may well find enough such comedy to make a study of the humor in this realistic, often harsh and painful story.
It is now revealed that O-lan has a bag of jewels hidden in her bosom, stolen from the rich man's house in the city. She asks to keep only two small pearls, and Wang takes the rest. He goes at once to the House of Hwang. He will put the treasure into the one thing robbers can't take-more land.
The Old Lord himself comes to the gate, shrunken, coughing, his fur-trimmed satin gown dirty and bedraggled. He alone is left, with the slave woman Cuckoo to look after him. Cuckoo tells Wang that all the servants have fled during the famine but some came back as robbers to plunder the mansion. The Old Mistress died of the fright they gave her. The young lords want to sell all 300 acres that are left.
Wang Lung goes to the town to drink tea with the shopkeeper and hear the news. The man confirms what Cuckoo has told him. Wang Lung goes back to buy the land.
This picture of the fall of a once great family is dramatic. Like nature, might not families be ruled by cycles of poverty and prosperity? The author is preparing you for the story of Wang Lung's own rise and fall. How is a family's fate connected to nature in this book? Remember that the Hwang fortunes had begun to fail even before the Old Lord's time because no one cared about the land.
At this point Wang remembers how even the thought of the Old Lord intimidated him in the past. Now the old man is not even as impressive as Wang's own father, who at least is a clean and smiling old man.
O-lan's resourcefulness, in knowing where to look for jewels in a rich man's house and how to keep them hidden, has now made Wang Lung's fortune. Once more O-lan's importance to the family is underscored.