A servant. A prostitute. An aunt. Three very different women who play three very different roles in Wang Lung's life, and yet, ultimately, they are all physical reminders of his passionate and troubled relationship with the land.
Cuckoo, the Dream Broker
A chamber slave who takes advantage of her sexual relationship with Old Master Hwang, Cuckoo becomes the gatekeeper to Wang Lung's dreams. During the famine and drought, Hwang's children and staff abandon him so all that is left of the rich man's former life is Cuckoo and his worthless land. In this desperate time, the old social rules break down and Cuckoo isn't confined by traditional female roles. When Wang Lung goes to buy Hwang's property, he is mortified that he must broker the deal through a woman. However, Cuckoo knows she alone can influence Hwang and laughs at Wang Lung's naïveté. She literally holds the keys to Wang Lung's desires.
Later, Wang Lung will be forced to go through her to access desires of a different kind—sexual. After Old Master Hwang dies, Cuckoo moves on to manage the prostitutes at the teahouse and introduces Wang Lung to Lotus Flower. Later, she will act as matchmaker for his children's marriages. And finally, she will be the one to tell Lotus that while she may be Old Mistress Wang by default, she has been replaced.
Lotus Flower, the Erotic Reward
Her small, delicate features—her hands, face and particularly her bound feet—are truly other compared to O-lan's hard, calloused hands, large feet and broad, dull features. Wang Lung never thought a lowly farmer like himself could ever access a woman like Lotus. Now that his land has made him wealthy, he feels entitled to the pleasures of a rich man. At first he is timid as Lotus teaches him the art of lovemaking though he is driven by a limitless lust. Wang Lung lives a double life, sneaking off to the teahouse instead of tending his fields, wracked with guilt. However, like his need to possess land, Wang Lung soon needs to possess Lotus, too. Eventually, Wang Lung realizes that he has enough money to take a second wife.
Since it is "not meet" that he arrange for Lotus to become his concubine, he sends the only woman he can as his emissary—his aunt. Lotus, knowing that her tiny stature and makeup won't conceal her age forever, drives a heavy bargain. She demands jewels, finery, gifts and delicacies, and brings Cuckoo along as her servant. Lotus never bears Wang Lung's children and grows fat like a cat kept for pleasure. Even in her old age, she knows that women hold power over lustful men and, in her own way, grooms the little slave Pear Blossom to awaken Wang Lung's aged passion so she can once again obtain the trinkets her heart desires.