Summary: Chapter 20
Wang Lung’s uncle returns, once more banking on his ability to exploit Wang Lung’s filial piety. Wang Lung’s uncle and the uncle’s wife and son move into Wang Lung’s house. His uncle’s wife, seeing Wang Lung’s new attention to his appearance, declares that Wang Lung hungers for another woman. She tells O-lan to accept that all men with the necessary wealth buy additional wives. Upon hearing this, Wang Lung is emboldened and asks his uncle’s wife to act as his agent and help him purchase Lotus. He tells his uncle’s wife that he will do anything to have Lotus for his own, including sell his land. Waiting to hear whether Lotus will come, Wang Lung is in agony. He lashes out at O-lan for not brushing her hair. She bursts into tears “as he had never seen her weep before, even when they starved, or at any other time.” She tells him that she has borne him sons. Wang Lung is suddenly ashamed, because he knows he has no real grounds for complaint against O-lan.
He builds a separate court and fishpond, and installs Lotus there with Cuckoo as her servant. Lotus is carried to the house on a chair; because of her bound feet, she is unable to walk long distances. Wang Lung is satisfied once she is there and has sex with her every night.
Summary: Chapter 21
Although O-lan ignores Lotus, she vents her unhappiness by speaking out against Cuckoo. She states that Cuckoo was cruel to her when they were both slaves in the House of Hwang, and Cuckoo was a higher-ranking slave than she. O-lan refuses to do anything for Cuckoo now since O-lan is the first wife in this household. She will not let Cuckoo work in the kitchen. When Wang Lung tries to force O-lan to be civil to Cuckoo, O-lan brings up the pearls that Wang Lung took from her to give to Lotus. Silenced, Wang Lung decides to build another kitchen for Lotus and Cuckoo to alleviate the hostility. Cuckoo spends extravagantly on delicate, expensive foods for her mistress. To Wang Lung’s dismay, his uncle’s wife befriends Cuckoo and Lotus. Wang Lung’s passion for Lotus begins to wane.
Wang Lung’s father, who is getting senile, sees Lotus one day and cries out that there is a “harlot” in the house. He does not accept any explanation for her presence and begins to annoy Lotus as a child would, spitting on her floor and throwing stones in her fishpond. One day, the twins take their retarded sister into Lotus’s court. Upon seeing Lotus’s brightly colored clothing and jewelry, the girl tries to touch them. Lotus screams, bringing Wang Lung hurrying to her side. She rails against the “idiot” and insults his children. Angered by her words, Wang Lung does not visit Lotus for two days. When he goes to her again, she tries especially hard to please him. He forgives her, but he “never [loves her] again so wholly as he had loved her.”
One day, Wang Lung goes outside and sees that the fields are ready for plowing. He casts off his elegant clothes and cries out for his hoe and plow. Buck writes, “A voice cried out in him, a voice deeper than love cried out in him for his land.”
Summary: Chapter 22
Wang Lung throws himself into work. He loses his unhealthy obsession with Lotus, so she ceases to have the power to manipulate him easily. Wang Lung’s eldest son reads and writes well, and Wang Lung is very proud of him. Eventually, however, the eldest son becomes moody and irritable. When the son begins skipping school, Wang Lung beats him. Later, O-lan informs Wang Lung that she saw a similar moodiness in the young lords in the House of Hwang. Usually, the matter was solved by giving them a female slave. Wang Lung is surprised, but O-lan tells him that their son is not like them—since he is never forced to work, he has time to feel sorry for himself. Wang Lung is secretly pleased at the idea that his son is as spoiled as a lord and decides that it is time to find a wife for him.