In addition to the fact that she lives her life as a resourceful, purposeful wife and mother, O-lan is continually redeemed by her generosity of spirit. She is the only character in the novel that could be deemed selfless. O-lan understands that because she comes from nothing, nothing belongs to her. Even the precious pearls that come to the family through her ingenuity do not ultimately belong to her. She is not a fine woman, and she accepts this. When Wang Lung demands the pearls should be worn by "fair" women, "slowly she thrust her wet wrinkled hand into her bosom and she drew forth the small package and she gave it to him and watched as he unwrapped it; and the pearls lay in his hand and they caught softly and fully the light of the sun" (p. 186). Though it causes her pain to give them up, O-lan does not struggle against her place and her purpose. Knowing her as we do, we may even assume O-lan considers herself to be lucky to have had possession of the pearls for as long as she did.

Through all of this, it seems clear that O-lan's life does hold many lessons. Her handling of the pearl's themselves, as with so many other moments throughout the novel, begets her ultimate wisdom. O-lan is a woman who does not apologize for who she is, but instead makes the most of her circumstances. When she marries a man who loves the land, she too loves the land. When she is expected to work hard and place the needs of her family above all else, she does this stoically and gracefully. When she withers with cancer, she soldiers on until she's finally given permission to die peacefully. In the end, she shows that she has shared Wang Lung's dream all along. When Wang Lung claims he would sell all of his land to bring her back to health, she says, "No, and I would not—let you. For I must die—sometime anyway. But the land is there after me." (p. 256)

It seems, in the eyes of the author, that O-lan represents the best China has to offer—a society in which some members truly shine in the role they were born to play. O-lan's resilience—even in the face of every oppression—is inspiring. It is also a reminder of the hard-won promise of a purposeful life well lived.


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