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Chapter 12 and 13

Chapter 12

The days pass and the family grows familiar with their routine: begging on the streets, pulling the ricksha, and eating rice in the morning. Wang learns the ins and outs of the city from pulling his customers each day, but he feels alien to them all, like a rat in a rich man's house. Although Wang and his family look like everyone else, the people here in Kiangsu are unlike those back home in Anhwei. Even what passed for a good meal of bread and garlic in his village is looked upon with disdain now by the southerners.
One day, by the Confucian temple, Wang hears a man speak out against the "hated foreigners" and Wang is terrified, thinking that he is whom they mean. Only when he comes upon a strange foreign white woman does he grasp that there are those in Kiangsu more foreign than he. A fellow puller tells him that this "creature with a dead animal wrapped around its neck" is a female from America. Wang goes as fast as he can to her requested destination and is rewarded handsomely, though chided for pulling so quickly. When he arrives home, O-lan tells him that she, too, has come upon these peculiar strangers, who are too ignorant to know not to drop silver into her begging bowl. Wang feels reassured that indeed he belongs to his own kind, with black eyes and hair.
With their meager earnings, the family stays away from starvation in this new city, full of food. Everywhere the eye turns, there are grain markets, duck shops, fish buckets, vegetable stands, and sweets and fruits in abundance.
The boys, meanwhile, resort to petty thievery for fuel (to cook cabbage, when they could afford it) and food. One night, Wang returns home to find a large piece of pork stewing in the cabbage soup. Though initially delighted, Wang is suddenly irate to learn that his boastful youngest son has stolen it from the butcher. Wang throws the meat on the ground, but O-lan salvages it, saying, "Meat is meat." At dinner, Wang does not partake in any of the pork, contenting himself with the cabbage alone. Afterwards, Wang takes his son outside for a beating and desperately laments, after the ordeal that they must all return to the land.

Chapter 13

As the days progress, Wang sees the dire poverty in which his family is stuck. Men who slave in the city bakeries do not even earn enough to purchase the rich loaves their hands make, and those who worked as tailors to clothe the rich are lucky if they have any clothing at all to cover their bodies. Wang looks around and sees his fellow laborers, with their faces revealing the stress and strain of their daily tasks. The young men, seeing their sad lot, grow discontent and rebellious.
Wang reminisces about the land with his father, who assures him that there is always the land to which to return. O-lan, who is pregnant again, suggests that they sell their daughter for money with which to make the return journey, but Wang refuses. Wang, having trouble sleeping, heads outside the hut and makes conversation with one of his equally unfortunate neighbors. The man relays how he had to sell two of his girls and how he has seen the rich and their ways, when even the slaves share in the wealth. Wang wonders, then, if it might be better for his daughter to be raised in that manner, instead of starving in a foreign city. He repeats to himself something the man has just said, "There is a way, when the rich are too rich."

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2 and 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34


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