Or widespread poverty could force parents to sell off or kill their daughters to eliminate a mouth to feed that is not contributing to the food on the table. These examples and more are used by Buck to depict the attitude towards women in pre-revolutionary China and, more importantly, what caused such treatment. The Middle East currently serves as an example that this is not isolated to China. The oppression of women has been around as long as slavery, to varying degrees, and in most instances is caused by a unique combinations of factors or a single, overwhelming factor; such as the strict religious adherence observed in most Muslim nations. O-lan was, unfortunately like many other daughters of Chinese peasants, doomed to live a subservient life from the beginning. Born into a poor family, her fate was to either be sold into slavery or prostitution since her family would not have enough money to support her. O-lans lack of beauty however meant slavery into the Great House of Hwang.
Her servitude began at age 10 and lasted until Wang Lung decided to marry her; whereby it was simply transferred to him. And love certainly was not the reason for marriage; rather, the decision was based on practicality and necessity. Wang needed a woman to take care of his home and bear a son to work his fields. O-lan was perfect for this role, as her homely appearance meant she would not desire material possessions to accentuate her beauty and her unbound feet would prove useful for working. But her new life as the wife of a farmer she hardly knew would take some getting used to. O-lan adapts to her new situation rather quickly though, thanks in large part to her prior experience as a slave, which is quite sad. She is Wangs servant more so than wife; a thankless job that she learns to embrace and indeed excels at. Pleasing her husband becomes her only priority and she often performs chores she is not asked to do.
Wangs life becomes considerably easier as a result but O-lan does not receive much, if any, love for her efforts. Happiness proves to be something she will have to create for herself. O-lans duties as a wife supersede her feelings time and time again but, like a good peasant wife is supposed to, she grins and bears it. The little joy she has been able to experience has come from the fact that she has produced two male children. This is incredibly honorable in most patriarchal societies and brings her much pride; evidenced when she exclaims to Wang, I have borne you sonsI have borne you sons (Buck, 1994, p. 196). Loyalty to the family and their husbands is another trait lower class women are expected to possess and O-lan had it in spades. A famine befell her village but, rather than blaming her husband for failing to do his job in feeding the family, she goes to the streets to beg with her children. It is undoubtedly shameful but she does what she must for her family.
Their desperate situation nearly forces O-lan to sell her eldest daughter into slavery and does force her to strangle a newborn baby girl she delivered because they had no way of providing for her. This act would break any mothers heart but O-lan had the interests of the rest of her family in mind in making the impossibly difficult decision. Hunger makes thief of any man (Buck, 1994, p. 143) and, finally, there wass hope for the family after O-lan steals jewels during the mobbing of a wealthy landowners house. Not unexpectedly though, she hands these jewels over to Wang, who was also able to steal gold coins, keeping only two pearls for herself. This gives Wang the ability to buy land with the money but he unfortunately, as some poor men do when suddenly struck with wealth, gets greedy and wastes the rest of the money on unnecessary purchases and a concubine named Lotus.
This is highly disrespectful to O-lan but accepted in such a society as an alternative to divorce, which is looked down upon as far worse. O-lan cannot even keep her two pearls because Wang takes those to buy Lotus more presents. This breaks her heart, not because of the monetary value of the pearls, but because of the respect for her they symbolized that Wang just ripped away. She obediently stands by her husband time after time, but this time she struggles to hold back her emotions, [returning] to the beating of [Wangs] clothes and when tears dropped slowly and heavily from her eyes she did not put up her hand to wipe them away (Buck, 1994, p. 188). Her heartbreak will go unnoticed again though; and such is the life of one that is treated like property. It would be nice to say this is a rare or isolated case but some Muslim women are treated this way still, in the 21st century.
O-lan had very bad luck when it came to her daughters too. She had to strangle one and another became retarded due to malnutrition during the famine. The third daughter however, was cursed with beauty. It is a curse because the girls feet are bound, an agonizing experience, because small feet were highly desirable on potential wives for Chinese men of the time. O-lan was sold before there was opportunity to bind her feet but tells Wang, ¦the girls feet I will bind-the younger girls feet I will bind (Buck,1994, p. 171) as an attempt to keep her daughter from sharing the same fate as her. Indeed, her daughter does endure the torturous process and avoids a life of hard labor, but life as a wife in an arranged marriage is not much of an upgrade. She is still hugely subservient to her husband and enjoys little freedom, if any.
This is and has been a trademark of patriarchal societies throughout history, unfortunately. It was not until O-lan became terminally ill that Wang Lung finally acknowledged and respected all that she did for him and his children. Pearl Buck wrote this as a depiction of the average life in turn of the century China, so it can be assumed that O-lans experiences were not all that unique but rather, commonplace for the period. Chinese traditions and culture definitely played a role in what went on, as is with any nation, but the outside influence of economic standing played an equally important role in the treatment of women.
Daughters of wealthy families were subjected to foot-binding and sold to the highest bidder, so to speak. Whereas daughters born into poverty were sold into slavery and expected to obediently work their whole lives. The women of pre-revolutionary China were truly in a lose, lose situation. But, fortunately, the conditions have improved in the time since then; just like the conditions for American women have improved and the women in the majority of developed countries, for that matter. Hopefully, the conditions for all women across the globe will continue to improve so no more daughters or wives are viewed and treated as lesser people.
Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth. New York: Pocket Books, 1994. 1-360. Print.