He starts out as a poor farmer who suffers from an inferiority complex when he walks around town. He is a good provider, caring for his old father and his family through all the hard times on their land. Wang's staunch love for the land is central to the book, since it is the basis on which the Wang family makes their fortune and subsequently transforms their lives. Wang himself is illiterate, so he ensures that his sons learn to read and write. Curiously, although Wang understands what it means to be poor, he is unsympathetic to their situation when he becomes rich and looks disdainfully upon the less fortunate. He takes a mistress, Lotus, who stirs his heart and causes him to lose interest in O-lan. Later in his life, Lotus' servant Pear Blossom stirs him, although he is half ashamed of the age difference between them. Wang is always seeking stability and peace, which explains his devotion to the land. He is horrified at the idea of selling his land, and whenever his troubles overwhelm him, he returns to the land to rejuvenate him.
She is Wang Lung's bride, a former slave in the House of Hwang. Her parents sold her as a child in a year of great famine. She is extremely reserved and does not speak much. She is plain looking but hard working, and she assists Wang in many ways to provide for the family. While Wang is the fiery character in the novel, O-lan is his opposite, stoic and reserved throughout many of the difficult periods. It is only when the family is rich and Wang weds another woman that she succumbs to her emotions, saddened at her husband's disloyalty and angered by the entrance of Cuckoo and Lotus to her household. O-lan grows ill towards the end of her life, but she insists on witnessing the marriage of her eldest son to ensure that Wang has a grandson before she dies. Though Wang tries hard to combat her death, he is repulsed by her looks.
Wang Lung's father
He arranges Wang Lung's marriage, wanting for Wang a good woman who can bear him many children. He is an old man with a "faint, gasping cough" which needs to be tended to daily. He expects to be entirely provided for by Wang and his family, and he grows impatient if he ever has to wait for a meal. He is proud that his son is successful and that there are many grandsons to continue his line. While he ordinarily minds himself in the later years, one day he comes across Wang's mistress Lotus and he is highly displeased.
Wang holds great resentment for his uncle since he is always asking Wang for food or money, never able to provide for his family on his own. Wang dislikes the influence of his uncle's family on his own, especially on his eldest son. As much as Wang does not wish to assist him, he is obligated because of family responsibility. Wang's uncle lives off of Wang throughout his prosperity, and Wang tries to cast him out for being ungrateful and lazy. Wang's uncle dares him to try, revealing that he is affiliated with a strong band of robbers who will befall Wang's house if the uncle is cast out. To solve this annoyance, Wang manages to get his uncle addicted to opium, which causes him to be less active and therefore, less bothersome to Wang. He lives with Wang until his death, which relieves Wang's filial responsibility.
Wang's uncle's wife
She is as lazy and greedy as her husband is. She yells at Wang when he attempts to interfere in the upbringing of her daughter, telling Wang that he cannot understand their plight since he is rich. When she and her family move into Wang's house, she befriends Lotus and shares in the rich foods she eats. Wang is always disapproving of her, and he is grateful that O-lan is unlike her, not demanding rich foods or expensive items. Wang also succeeds in addicting her to opium, which relieves his burden. She dies soon after her husband.
Wang's uncle's son
Wang considers him a negative influence on his own sons, and he tries hard to distance him from them. Like his parents, he is a bane to Wang's household. He brings the eldest son to a whorehouse; he covets Lotus and the servants; he brings his army troop to stay in Wang's courts. Wang is not able to addict him to opium, unlike his parents, but he is freed of the annoyance when the boy decides to seek adventures in the army and leaves voluntarily. Wang is glad that the boy's offspring is female, so that he no longer has claims to the Wang family.
Wang meets Lotus in the tea shop, where she is a prostitute. He is so smitten with her that he arranges for her to be his mistress. She agrees and comes to live with him in the house in the fields, bringing Cuckoo as her servant. She is very particular with her diet and appearance, and she is also fickle with her relationship with Wang, desiring him at times and scolding him at others. She grows old in his household, and Wang is no longer as in love with her as he once was. Towards the end, she grows angry with her new servant Pear Blossom for disobeying her and stealing Wang's heart, but she is content with her status and does not complain much.
Cuckoo appears in many roles in the story. First, she is the servant of the Old Lord of the House of Hwangs who sells Wang the land during the Hwang's financial hardships. Second, she is the hostess of the tea house who introduces Wang to Lotus. Third, she becomes Lotus' servant when she moves into Wang's household. She also helps Wang arrange his eldest son's marriage. O-lan, however, deplores Cuckoo and seeks to make life as difficult as possible for her in the household. Cuckoo had treated O-lan poorly when they were servants together in the House of Hwang. Cuckoo becomes good friends with Lotus in their older years, no longer just her servant.
Wang's oldest son, Neng En
He is tall, big-boned, and attractive. Though he is educated, he is fearful that people should view him as only a country boy, and so he attempts to appear as noble as possible by spending and marrying well. He and Wang have a large argument when Wang suspects that the son and Lotus have had relations. His punishment is being sent to the south, until he is sent for. When he returns, he marries an upper-class maid from the town, to the pleasure of O-lan. The birth of his children please Wang very much, even though he has plans to sell the land, much to Wang's horror.
Wang's second oldest son, Neng Wen
Unlike his older brother, he is short and slight. He is given charge of the family's expenses, after he has proven his trustworthiness as a grain dealer's apprentice. His family rivals with his older brother's, causing their father great unrest. He has chosen a village maid who is hardy and knows how to run a household, almost opposite to the description of his brother's wife. However, both brothers agree to sell their father's land after he is dead.
Browse all book notes|
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Chapter 2 and 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13