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CHAPTER 21

Wang Lung has heard of the trouble with a first wife because of a second one, but O-lan simply ignores the existence of Lotus, whom she never sees, as Lotus keeps to her own quarters. Trouble arises between O-lan and Cuckoo, who was bossy and arrogant toward O-lan when she was a mere kitchen slave and Cuckoo was the Old Lord's servant. O-lan wants to know why she must have this woman in her house. When she gets no satisfaction from Wang (who doesn't know how to answer her) she takes it out on Cuckoo, who must share the kitchen with her. Wang solves the dispute by building a separate kitchen in Lotus' court.

Other annoyances arise. The uncle's wife begins visiting Lotus, entertaining her with gossip and sharing her more elegant food. Wang's father, catching sight of the painted silk-clad Lotus, roars that there is a harlot in the house. The last straw comes when Wang hears Lotus screaming at his retarded daughter whom the twins have innocently taken to see the mysterious lady. Lotus now shows the bad temper of which she is capable, calling his children filthy and cursing them. Wang will not tolerate this. He stays away from Lotus for two days. When he returns she does everything to please him, but it seems clear that his infatuation is waning.

Meanwhile the floods have receded. Wang throws off his city clothes and calls to Ching to bring the hoe, the plow, and the seeds-it's time to plant the winter wheat!

NOTE:

Wang learns that a rich man's life is not peaceful-it bristles with annoyances. You probably will find some of these scenes comic, although no one who participates in them is amused. O-lan succeeds in getting Cuckoo out of her sight. Wang's old father, usually so good-natured, takes a cunning pleasure in shouting through Lotus' doorway or spitting on the tiles of her court. Wang will not have Lotus, a mere second wife, scream at his children, whom he loves, and especially not at his "poor fool." His call to Ching to come out and plant the winter wheat is a signal that he is freeing himself from his bondage to Lotus. As you can see, the return to the good earth is the medicine which always restores Wang Lung.

CHAPTER 22

Wang Lung comes in from his day in the fields, weary but triumphant, his spirits lifted. He goes to Lotus with earth still clinging to his hands and clothing, teases her about being a farmer's wife, and leaves laughing at her. He eats heartily, and laughs at Lotus again when she protests at his garlicky breath.


In the village he is now a man of importance. His uncle boasts of Wang's house and his wealth. The villagers borrow money from Wang and ask his advice in marrying off their children and settling disputes. His eldest son reads contracts for him and even corrects errors in them, while Wang stands by proudly.

But this boy is staying out of school and he weeps when rebuked. O-lan suggests he have a slave woman. Wang will not buy his son a slave but decides it is time to find him a wife.

Here you see Wang Lung at his best, a mature man in his prime, in control of his household affairs and with the wisdom and authority to advise others. He has restored his balance and refreshed his spirit by renewing his deep bond with the land. He has put Lotus in her place as a concubine, and restored O-lan to her proper place. She is his respected first wife, the mother of his children, the woman who keeps his household in order and looks after his and the family's well-being.

These two women are as sharply contrasted in character as in the roles that society has assigned them. O-lan is serious, responsible, undemanding. She rarely smiles and speaks only when she has something important to say. Lotus is lazy, self-indulgent, peevish when her wishes are not quickly granted, and given to sharp temper when she is crossed. Although both women were sold as slaves in childhood, one becomes a true wife, the other a courtesan. What do you think accounts for the different futures of these two girls?

You may find further points for comparison in Wang's two daughters, one nearly sold as a slave and the other now being groomed for marriage. They are both of the same family, but the family's fortunes have abruptly changed from poverty to prosperity, and so there is never a question of the second daughter being sold as a slave.

Meanwhile, O-lan's solution for her son's unhappiness is to buy a slave for him, that is, to give him a sexual outlet. Do you find this surprising in light of her own slavery and her contempt for Cuckoo, who performed this function for the Old Lord? Or is it just one more example of O-lan's practical solutions for problems?

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