The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 9

The family is in dire straits, and their emaciated bodies reveal the reality of the food shortage. One day, Wang even takes out his frustration by spitting on the Earth god in the temple. The baby girl, and her ignorance of their horrible situation, is one of the few joys in Wang’s everyday existence. The old man also fares well, since any food they do manage to find is reserved first for him. He tries to find the good side by telling Wang that there have been worse times when people have resorted to cannibalism.

Ching comes over and tells Wang that some people have indeed resorted to eating human flesh, including Wang’s uncle. The revelation inspires and horrifies Wang, who immediately declares that the family will head south. O-lan agrees that it is a good idea, but she requests that they delay their departure a day to allow her to give birth. Wang then begs Ching for any food he has left so that O-lan can eat, saying that he will forget that he saw Ching as a robber in his house. Ching, greatly ashamed, agrees to give him some beans, which O-lan desperately needs to get through childbirth.

That night, O-lan gives birth, and although Wang hears the infant’s first cry, O-lan reports that it is dead. Wang looks at his exhausted and weak wife and questions no further. He goes outside to bury the child, but he has no strength to beat off a hungry wolf that lurks nearby, ready to take the child once Wang departs.

The next morning, Wang has serious doubts about the long journey south. Who knows if the south will have any food, so perhaps it is better to just die in their home. The family has been eating a gruel of earth and water to allay their hunger pains, but it is no solution.

Before Wang can think any further, his deplorable uncle arrives, and Wang can tell that he has eaten, as Ching reported. His uncle denies the accusation, saying that he is as starved as Wang, but he tells Wang that he has come with three gentlemen so that Wang can feed his family! The men have come to buy Wang’s land, but Wang is obstinate in his refusal. In fact, seeing the men’s nice clothing and well-fed bodies, he is disgusted that they have come to take advantage of his starving family. Yet, he relents when he realizes it is the only option and that the family will die without the money. However, the men offer such a low price that the irate Wang refuses to sell. O-lan then negotiates a deal to sell only their furniture, understanding Wang’s strong hold on the land. Though they are again offered a low price, they accept. They agree to head south immediately, with the bit of silver earned from the sale, and Wang is satisfied that he still has the land.

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