Though illegal in today’s society, polygamy, or the practice of having multiple wives, was a common practice in Chinese culture. Wang Lung is not satisfied with his good and faithful first wife, O-Lan, who helped him become wealthy and takes on Lotus as a concubine. In The Good Earth, Pearl Buck compares O-Lan and Lotus to portray the negative effects of polygamy.
O-Lan rarely takes a stand on anything, but draws the line with having Lotus’ servant, Cuckoo, in her house. O-Lan complains to Wang Lung, “What is this slave doing in our house?”(Buck, 217). O-Lan feels that having Lotus’ servant Cuckoo in her house is an invasion on her territory and is not willing to have Cuckoo in her court. O-Lan thinks that she deserves better because she bore three good sons for Wang Lung but that is not good enough for him. She cries out to her husband, “I have borne you sons-I have borne you sons-“(Buck, 209). According to the Chinese culture, O-Lan does deserve better because of the three sons she has born to Wang Lung and she stood laboring in the fields by his side even in the most horrid of times.
Lotus makes Wang Lung feel happy and special at first. “And he ate and drank of his love and he was satisfied.”(Buck, 214). Wang Lung is happy and satisfied for a while, but when Lotus starts complaining and costing Wang Lung large sums of money with all the delicacies of food and jewelry, Wang Lung is turned off. “Now and I have no one but you and I have no friends…and I have no one.”(Buck, 225). Lotus often complains which causes Wang Lung to grow weary of her, for she befriends the wife of Wang Lung’s uncle, whom Wang Lung despises.
O-Lan bears three sons for Wang Lung. “Well, and if I am ugly, still I have borne a son; although I am but a slave there is still a son in my house.”(Buck, 286). This ability to bear sons allows women in Chinese culture to gain social status and respect. Lotus does not ever bear sons for Wang Lung. “I will not hear my children cursed… not by you who have no son in your womb for any man.”(Buck, 225). Lotus is not as perfect as Wang Lung first thought when he first met her, for she never bears him any sons.
O-Lan is faithful and obedient throughout her life to Wang Lung. “He fell to thinking of his life and how O-Lan had been the first woman he had known and how she had been a faithful servant beside him.”(Buck, 268). This plain, ugly woman, as Wang Lung put it when they were first married, was better than she had seemed. Lotus feels disappointed when Wang Lung no longer wants her to pleasure him. “If I had known that in short year you could look at me and not see me, I would have stayed in the tea house.”(Buck, 237). Lotus could not have cared less about being faithful to Wang Lung.
Though they both loved Wang Lung, O-Lan and Lotus never came to peace with each other. This might have been a result of them being just about as unlike as two can be. This is one of the many negative effects of polygamy.