Plot Points in The Good Earth
"Looking at the blue heaven above him and the white clouds driving across it, feeling upon his ploughed fields as upon his own flesh the sun and rain in proportion, Wang Lung muttered unwillingly, 'I must stick a little incense before those two in the small temple. After all, they have power over earth.'" — from The Good Earth
At several points throughout The Good Earth, Wang Lung's land is won and lost, both literally and figuratively. Not only does the family physically lose their land at the time of famine, but Wang Lung also loses track of his commitment to the earth—and its source of renewal—almost as regularly as a pendulum swings from one side to the other. His fields are flooded. His land dries to a hard lump of earth. In similar fashion, Wang Lung's ability to appreciate his fortunes, and to give thanks for them to the Gods, goes through many shifts and changes.
This relationship, between the temple to the earth, the earth itself, and the way both are perceived by Wang Lung, is one of the most complex and rich of the entire novel. In the beginning, the main character and his new wife complete their true union in the temple to the earth. "Together this man and this woman stood before the gods of their fields. The woman watched the ends of the incense redden and turn grey. When the ash grew heavy she leaned over and with her forefinger she pushed the head of ash away. Then, as though fearful for what she had done, she looked quickly at Wang Lung, her eyes dumb. But there was something he liked in her movement. It was as though she felt that the incense belonged to them both; it was a moment of marriage. They stood there in complete silence, side by side, while the incense smothered into ashes; and then because the sun was sinking, Wang Lung shouldered the box and they went home." (p. 21) The temple, which is one of the few clear instances of religion in the book, holds unique sway over not only Wang Lung and O-lan, but also the ties that bind them together. At the many points where Wang Lung is reminded of his commitment to the bonds of matrimony, he is also reminded of what he owes to the land and to the Gods. In this way, Wang Lung's commitments to the world—his debt to society, to his family and to himself—are all wrapped up together in a somewhat tidy package reflected in the temple to the earth.