The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 17

Wang is now the owner of more land than he alone can tend, so he offers to employ Ching to assist him, and Ching agrees. The rains are so overflowing that when the time to harvest the fields arrives, even Ching and Wang need assistance, and so two extra laborers are hired.

Each morning, Wang takes his two sons to the fields with him, and even if their small hands cannot help the operations greatly, they still know the beating of the harsh sun and the weariness of the walk back to the house. O-lan no longer works in the fields, since the family is no longer poor. Another room is built to the house to store the harvested grain, and pigs and birds are also added to the family’s resources.

O-lan gives birth to fraternal twins this year, which delights Wang. However, the family also sadly realizes that the eldest girl is a "fool," not speaking or acting her age. Wang regrets ever having considered selling her, since the buyer, finding her so, would most likely have killed her, and subsequently, Wang takes a special liking to her, as if to make amends.

In this period of good fortune, Wang resolves never to suffer as they did that one year, and he commits to building a financial base so secure that he would never have to leave the land again. So for seven years, with the grace of the gods, there are such good harvests that he has to hire more laborers and then build a new house to accommodate them all. By now, Ching has become Wang’s confidant, and from Ching, Wang learns who are the best workers and who to rehire for the next harvest.

By the end of the fifth year, Wang worked rarely in the fields himself and instead takes on an administrative role. But he realizes that his inability to read and write is shameful, and he is ridiculed for his ignorance at the grain shop. One day, he angrily resolves to educate his son so that he will be spared from the cruel laughter from the townspeople. His eldest son is grateful to hear of his father’s decision to send him to school, but his other son complains that he too wants to earn an education and no longer work in the fields. Wang reluctantly assents.

The two boys then prepare for school, a small institution by the city gate headed by an old man. The students learn the classics, and although they occasionally fool around, the old teacher is able to successfully mold their studies. Wang speaks condescendingly of his sons to the worthy instructor, but inwardly he is bursting with pride. The boys even receive new names, and they are subsequently referred to as Nung En (the elder son) and Nung Wen (the younger son), with the character "nung" symbolizing wealth from the earth.

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