The Metamorphosis of Wang Lung in The Good Earth

The Metamorphosis of Wang Lung in The Good Earth

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Many times, changes in wealth and family can alter one's attitude completely. In The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, the main character, Wang Lung displays a perfect example of this change. Between his first visit to the House of Hwang (when he went to receive O-lan) and his second visit at New Year's (when he brings O-lan and the child to visit), Wang Lung changes from a modest, apprehensive farmer into a proud, rich man. Wang Lung's family, his family's increased wealth, and the House of Hwang's diminishing wealth are all responsible for the changes in Wang Lung's attitude between his first and second visits to the House of Hwang.

 

On his first visit to the House of Hwang, Wang Lung does not have a wife or son. He journeys alone to receive O-lan as his wife. A few months after Wang Lung and O-lan gets married, O-lan finds out that she is pregnant. When O-lan delivered their first child, Wang Lung waits anxiously for the announcement of the newborn's gender. After O-lan shares the news of their son's birth, " `It is a man child!' he called triumphantly. `You are grandfather and I am father!' "(37). Wang Lung is relieved when O-lan tells him that she has given birth to a "man child" for two specific reasons. First, he is proud because sons carry on the family name. Second, when the son grows up, he can help work in the fields. Thus, Wang Lung feels pride that his first son is male. When he travels to the House of Hwang on the second occasion he is proud to bear a son, consistent with the Old Mistress' request at their first meeting to see their first-born child. Wang Lung also takes pride in his family because of his wife, O-lan. On the first visit, when Wang Lung goes to the House of Hwang for the first time to receive O-lan, her position in the great house is considered that of a slave. However, on the second visit she is a guest and visitor. Looking back at her past as a servant, O-lan recalls, "Last year this time I was slave in that house." (53). O-lan is happy at the fact that she has an opportunity to change her life completely from a slave to a financially stable.

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Because of this, Wang Lung is proud that he is able to allow this change in O-lan's social background. In conclusion, Wang Lung's attitude is affected by a newfound pride in his family.

 

Wealth is another factor in Wang Lung's attitude changes. At the beginning of the story Wang Lung is a poor, parsimonious peasant who always thinks thoroughly about how he spends his money. Even on the day of his marriage Wang Lung is still concerned about the amount of money he spends. "And Wang Lung, to his horror, found there was nothing to do but to produce from his girdle yet another penny. `It is robbery,' he muttered, unwilling." (13). Wang Lung's frugality determines his financial dealings, and he is not prone to indulge. Because of his status as a poor farmer, Wang Lung is intimidated when he first approaches the House of Hwang. Conversely, on his second visit, Wang Lung is already prospering from his crops and is hiding a secret stash of silver coins in his wall. An obvious display of his newly gained wealth is the new clothes that Wang Lung, O-lan, and their son wear, as well as the moon cakes that O-lan made. This wealth makes him prideful. An example of this pride on his second visit occurs when he waits for O-lan and his son in the gateman's room. While he is there, the gateman's wife offers him tea as if he were one of the nobles, "[S]he presented to him and he set it before him and did not drink of it, as though it were not good enough in quality of tea leaves for him." (49). This behavior is in contrast to the beginning of the plot, where he is reluctant to drink tea because it is expensive. For example, when O-lan asks Wang Lung if she should put tea leaves in his father's hot water, he will have liked to say, "`Certainly there must be tea leaves. Do you think we are beggars?'" (25). However, he does not want O-lan to think that they are poor, so instead he makes an excuse, " `Tea? No-no-it makes his cough worse.'"(26). These two incidents with the tea illustrate how wealth can affect a person's outlook. Clearly, Wang Lung's attitude is changes because of his newly acquired wealth.

 

On his first visit to the House of Hwang, Wang Lung notices the splendor of the great house. On the second visit, while the great house is still splendid, O-lan tells Wang Lung three things that she sees and hears that indicate that the house of Hwang is becoming poorer. She says to him, "`The Ancient Mistress wore the same coat this year as last. I have never seen this happen before. And the slaves had no new coats,' And then after a pause she said, `I saw not one slave with a new coat like mine.'" (50). During O-lan's visit to the House of Hwang, the cook tells her on page 51 that the House of Hwang is growing poorer:

 

This house cannot stand forever with all the young lords, five of them, spending money like waste water in foreign parts and sending home woman after woman as they weary of them, and the Old Lord living at home adding a concubine or two each year, and the Old Mistress eating enough opium every day to fill two shoes with gold.

 

These free spending ways are the main factors why the House of Hwang is becoming increasingly poorer. Even though they are experiencing financial decay, the members of the Hwang family continue spending money frivolously. O-lan hears that the House of Hwang is selling a piece of land, due to their liberal spending. Seeing how the House of Hwang is selling their land, and that he has enough money to buy the land, Wang Lung confidently decides to buy the land; "`I will buy it!' he cried in a lordly voice. `I will buy it from the great House of Hwang!'" (52). The dwindling of the House of Hwang's wealth makes Wang Lung more confident and drives him to purchase the land almost without hesitation.

 

Wang Lung's attitude changes dramatically between his first and second visit to the House of Hwang. First, whereas Wang Lung is an unassuming bachelor the first visit, on the second visit, he arrives with his wife and firstborn son as the proud head of his own household. Second, Wang Lung's wealth is also a very important asset because he is more confident with his wealth on the second visit than on the first visit. Finally, the House of Hwang's wealth affects Wang Lung's attitude because seeing how the great house is becoming poorer, Wang Lung buys the piece of land that the House of Hwang is selling. Buying this land boosts Wang Lung's ego, and makes him more confident in his wealth. Thus, Wang Lung's family, his wealth, and the House of Hwang's Wealth are all responsible for the changes in Wang Lung's attitude and personal thoughts between his first and second visit to the House of Hwang. This is why his family, his wealth, and the House of Hwang's wealth affect Wang Lung's change in attitude. Changes in attitude are connected to the rise and fall of one's prosperity in life. Wang Lung, before he marries O-lan, is impoverished. However, when O-lan becomes his wife, his wealth begins to prosper as a result of her frugality and industry. At the end of Chapter six, Wang Lung is approaching the pinnacle of his success and will begin to feel financial stability. Subsequent chapters may reveal the downside of this cycle.

 
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