Yet not everyone makes the same choices in the face of starvation as Wang Lung. Across the countryside there is looting and immorality. Faced with it in his own village, Wang Lung thinks of the future and has hope. "We must go lest we forget our nature and eat each other as wild dogs do…And then it seemed to him suddenly that what he said was very right…There was cheer in his voice such as none had heard in many moons, and the children looked up and the old man hobbled out from his room and O-lan rose feebly from her bed and came to the door of their room and clinging to the door frame she said, 'It is a good thing to do. One can at least die walking.'" (p. 79-80) Though he knows nothing of the wider world—not even whether the poverty that has struck him where he lives will follow him down the road—he and his wife hold the same belief: That getting up and moving on is better than laying still and dying, and that the strength in their young, exuberant family is more than can be measured. Wang Lung and O-lan are presented as a united front. Whatever else we may learn of them, we know their core beliefs are something powerful each brings to their union.

To some degree, the hope he has for the future is bred into Wang Lung, and results from the fact that his family is the most important product of his life. Says the old man on the verge of starvation, "When he saw his hands were empty he said merely, 'I have ploughed and I have sown seed and I have reaped harvest and thus have I filled my rice bowl. And I have beyond this begotten a son and son's sons.' And with this he trusted like a child that now he would be fed, seeing that he had a son and grandsons." (p. 104) In this way, it seems clear. Life in Wang Lung's China is about hard work and providence. The strongest providence, the one that trumps all others, is the one begotten from the bonds of family life. Even in the face of the worst tragedy, family—by its very nature—will provide.


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