The story begins on the wedding day of farmer Wang Lung and follows his simple, often onesided view of the Chinese culture, times, and his connection with the land. The land is a recurring theme throughout the novel, seemingly nurtured by the apparent protagonists, rejected and ruined by the antagonists. The author uses the House of Hwang, a nearby house of nobles, to contrast and predict their rise and fall. As the House of Hwang meets its slow and desperate end, Wang Lung rises. However, as the weather turns disastrous for farming, Wang Lungs family has to flee to the city to scrape out a meager living. Upon returning home, the family fares better. Wang Lung eventually becomes a prosperous man, his rise contrasting with the downfall of the Hwang family, who lose their connection to the land. At the end of the novel, when Wang Lung is an old man, he overhears his sons plotting to sell some of the land, thus showing the end of the cycle of wealth and downfall.
There is little wonder why this book has become a classic. All of the personal attributes and qualities and some of the temptations to avoid come to life in this story. The humility of the first wife is truely and example to women everywhere. Her steadfastness even through her personal hurt in life is truely beautiful. Pearl has woven life and its struggles into a story that does nothing but touch the listener's heart.