Uncle's Wife, the Traditional Burden
Although she is described as fat and lazy, Uncle's wife is an opportunist. Never one for work herself, Uncle's wife calls on Wang Lung's filial responsibility to share his good fortune with his less fortunate relatives. Having survived during the famine because her husband joins the "red beard" robbers, they quickly insert themselves back into his life when Wang Lung's fortune returns. Wang Lung's own desperation soon puts his fate in his aunt's greedy hands. In exchange for silver, she acts as matchmaker and arranges the deal for Lotus with Cuckoo. Once they are installed in the house, she befriends Lotus and Cuckoo so she can dine on their expensive food and gossip in the inner court away from O-lan. Accustomed to Wang Lung's cowardice and traditional compliance, she demands meat and silver, even when another flood forces Wang Lung to ration food. She is treated as an honored guest when she is most despised.
When Wang Lung finds a willing ally in his oldest son, his Uncle's family's reign of terror quickly comes to an end. He moves his cousin's favorite attraction—the women—to rented rooms in the old Hwang house and his cousin goes off to war. Once the threat of his cousin's retaliation is removed, Wang Lung manipulates his uncle and aunt into smoking opium. Lulled by their drug-induced haze, they waste away in Wang Lung's old house, all but forgotten. After Uncle's death, Wang Lung moves his aunt to the Hwang house to live out her last days under the care of her son's consort. In a strange twist of fate, her proximity to wealth finally gives her what she always wanted—she becomes just like Old Mistress Hwang.
The Pleasure and the Pain
Wang Lung is caught in a Catch 22. Without his profit from the land, Wang Lung wouldn't be able to afford a concubine, servants and a big house, or be obligated to support his extended family. However, because he has the means, he cannot turn away. All he has, his joy and his burden, are a direct result of his relationship with his land and the women in his house are a constant reminder.