Desperation Breeds Hope: Pages 1–104
"Nothing could stop the mass of hungry men and women and they fought like beasts until all were fed. Wang Lung caught in their midst could do nothing but cling to his father and his two sons and when he was swept to the great caldron he held out his bowl and when it was filled threw down his pence, and it was all he could do not to stand sturdily and not be swept on before the thing was done." — from The Good Earth

The Good Earth is a story of the cycle of success and failure in a family that seems, like Wang Lung in the above quote, to be swirling in the great caldron of fate. No sooner have the main characters Wang Lung and O-lan married, started their family and secured a modest plot of land for themselves—all of the harbingers of a successful and stable existence—before the tumult of the world unseats the young family and casts them adrift. "The children's bellies were swollen out with empty wind, and one never saw in these days a child playing upon the village street. At most the two boys in Wang Lung's house crept to the door and sat in the sun, the cruel sun that never ceased its endless shining. Their once rounded bodies were angular and bony now, sharp small bones like the bones of birds, except for their ponderous bellies." (p. 77). A life that once seemed to hold so much promise for Wang Lung comes to feel empty and wayward—as near as he can tell, through no fault of his own. Across his province, everyone is starving. "Now the grandsons were coming, grandsons upon grandsons! They would have to put beds along the walls and in the middle room. The house would be full of beds." (p. 3)