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Second in the trilogy that began with The Good Earth, Buck's classic and starkly real tale of sons rising against their honored fathers tells of the bitter struggle to the death between the old and the new in China. Revolutions sweep the vast nation, leaving destruction and death in their wake, yet also promising emancipation to China's oppressed millions who are groping for a way to survive in a modern age.
Wang Lung lay dying. He lay dying in his small, dark, old earthen house in the midst of his fields, in the room where he had slept as a young man, upon the very bed where he had lain on his marriage night. The room was less even than one of the kitchens in that great town house, which was his also, where his sons and their sons now lived. But he was content to die here in the midst of his lands, in this old house of his fathers, in this room with its rude, unpainted table and benches, under his blue cotton bed curtains, since die he must.
For Wang Lung knew that his time had come to die, and he looked at his two sons who were beside him and he knew they waited for him to die, and his hour was come. They had hired good physicians to come from the town, and these came with their needles and their herbs and they felt his pulse long and looked at his tongue, but in the end they gathered their medicines together to depart and they said, "His age is on him and none can avert his destined death." Then Wang Lung heard those two sons of his whisper together, who had come to stay with him in this earthen house until he died, and they thought him sunken in sleep, but he heard them, and they said staring at each other solemnly, "We must send south for his other son, our brother." And the second son answered, "Yes, and we must send at once, for who knows where he is wandering under that general he serves?" And hearing this, Wang Lung knew they prepared for his funeral.
Beside his bed stood his coffin which his sons had bought for him and placed there for his comfort. It was a huge thing, hewn of a great tree of ironwood, and it crowded the small room, so that who came and went must circle and press about it. The price of this coffin was nearly six hundred pieces of silver, but even Wang the Second had not begrudged the spending, although usually money passed through his fingers so slowly it seldom came out so much as it went in. No, his sons did not begrudge the silver, for Wang Lung took a vast comfort in this fine coffin of his, and every now and then, when he felt able, he stretched out his feeble yellow hand to feel the black, polished wood. Inside there was an inner coffin also, planed to smoothness like yellow satin, and the two fitted into each other like a man's soul into his body. It was a coffin to comfort any man.
But for all this Wang Lung did not slip off into death so easily as his old father had done. It was true his soul was ready to start on its way half a score of times, but every time his strong old body rebelled that it must be left behind, its day ended, and when the struggle began between these two, Wang Lung was frightened at the warring he felt in himself. He had ever been more body than soul and he had been a stout and lusty man in his time, and he could not lightly let his body go, and when he felt his soul stealing away he was afraid, and he cried out in a hoarse gasping voice, wordlessly as a child cries.
Whenever he cried out thus, his young concubine, Pear Blossom, who sat by him day and night, reached out and soothed his old hand with her young hand, and his two sons hastened forward to comfort him with the tales of the funeral they would give him, and they told him over and over all they planned to do. The eldest son stooped his great, satin-clad body to the small, shriveled old, dying man, and he shouted into his ear, "We will have a procession more than a mile long, and we shall all be there to mourn you, your wives weeping and mourning as they should, and your sons and your sons' sons, in white hempen garments of woe, and all the villagers and the tenants from your land! And your soul's sedan shall go first and in it the picture we have had an artist draw of you, and after it is to come your great, splendid coffin, wherein you will lie like an emperor in the new robes we have waiting for you, and we have rented embroidered cloths of scarlet and of gold to be spread over your coffin as it is carried through the streets of the town for all to see!"
Thus he shouted until his face was red and he was breathless, for he was a very fat man, and when he stood erect again to pant more easily, Wang Lung's second son took up the tale. He was a small, yellow, crafty man, and his voice came out of him through his nose and piping and small, and he said,
"There will come the priests also, who shall chant your soul into paradise, and there will come all the hired mourners and the bearers in red and yellow robes who shall carry the things we have prepared for you to use when you are a shade. We have two paper and reed houses standing ready in the great hall, and one house is like this and one like the town house, and they are filled with furniture and with servants and slaves and a sedan chair and a horse, and all you need. They are so well made and so made of paper of every hue that when we have burnt them at your grave and sent them after you, I swear I believe there will be no other shade so fine as yours, and all these things are to be carried in the procession for everyone to see, and we pray for a fair day for the funeral!"
Then the old man was vastly cheered and he gasped out,
"I suppose—the whole town—will be there!"
"The whole town, indeed!" cried his eldest son loudly, and he flung out his big, soft, pale hand in a large gesture. "The streets will be lined on either side with all the people who come to see, for there has not been such a funeral, no, not since the great House of Hwang was at its height!"
"Ah—" said Wang Lung, and he was so comforted that once more he forgot to die, and he dropped into one of his sudden, light slumbers.
But even this comfort could not go on forever, and there came an hour in the early dawn of the sixth day of the old man's dying when it ended. The two sons were wearied with their waiting for the hour, for they were not accustomed to the hardships of a cramped house like this where they had not lived since they were young, and, exhausted with their father's long dying, they had gone to bed in the small inner court he had built long ago in the days when he took his first concubine, Lotus, in the days when he was in his prime. They told Pear Blossom when they went at the beginning of the night that she was to call them if their father began his dying again suddenly, and they went to their rest. There upon the bed which Wang Lung had once thought so fine and where he had loved so passionately, his eldest son now lay down and he complained because the bed was hard and rickety with age, and he complained because the room was dark and close now that the season was spring. But once down he slept heavily and loudly, and his short breath caught in his thick throat. As for Wang the Second, he lay upon a small bamboo couch that stood against the wall and he slept lightly and softly as a cat sleeps.
But Pear Blossom did not sleep at all. She sat the night through in the still way she had, motionless upon a little bamboo stool so low that as she sat beside the bed her face was near the old man's, and she held his dried old palm between her own soft palms. She was young enough in years to be Wang Lung's daughter; yet she did not look young, either, for she had the strangest look of patience on her face, and all she did was done with the most perfect, tutored patience, which is not like youth. Thus she sat beside the old man who had been very kind to her and more like her father than any she had ever known, and she did not weep. She looked at his dying face steadfastly hour after hour, as he slept a sleep as still and nearly as deep as death.
Suddenly at that small hour when it is blackest night and just before dawn breaks, Wang Lung opened his eyes, and he felt so weak that it seemed to him his soul was out of his body already. He rolled his eyes a little and he saw his Pear Blossom sitting there. He was so weak he began to be afraid, and he said whispering, his breath caught in his throat and fluttering through his teeth, "Child—is this—death?"
She saw him in his terror and she said quietly and aloud and in her natural voice,
"No, no, my lord—you are better, you are not dying!"
"You—are sure?" he whispered again, comforted with her natural voice, and he fixed his glazing eyes upon her face.
Then Pear Blossom, seeing what must come, felt her heart begin to beat hard and quick, and she rose and bent over him and she said in her same, soft, usual voice,
"Have I ever deceived you, my lord? See, your hand I hold feels so warm and strong—I think you are growing better every moment. You are so well, my lord! You need not be afraid—no, fear nothing—you are better—you are better—"
So she soothed him steadily on, saying over and over how well he was and holding his hand close and warm, and he lay smiling up at her, his eyes dimming and fixing, his lips stiffening, his ears straining to catch her steady voice. Then when she saw he was dying indeed, she leaned down close to him and she lifted her voice clear and high and she called,
"You are better—you are better! No death, my lord—it is not death!"
Thus she comforted him and even as he gathered his last heart beats together at the sound of her voice, he died. But he could not die peacefully. No, although he died comforted, yet when his soul tore itself out of him, his choked body gave a great leap as though of anger and his arms and legs flung themselves out and so strongly that his bony old hand jerked upward and struck Pear Blossom as she leaned over him. It struck her full in the face and with a blow so sharp she put her hand to her cheek and she murmured,
"The only blow you ever gave me, my lord!"
But he gave her no answer. Then she looked down and saw him lying all askew and as she looked his last breath went out of him in a gust and he was still. She straightened his old limbs then, touching him lightly and delicately, and she smoothed his quilts decently over him. With her tender fingers she closed his staring eyes that saw her no more, and she gazed for an instant at the smile, still on his face, which had come when she told him he was not dying.
When she finished all this, she knew she must go and call his sons. But she sat down upon the low stool again. Well she knew she must call his sons. But she took the hand that had struck her and she held it and bowed her head upon it and she wept a few silent tears while she was yet alone. But hers was a strange heart, sad in its very nature, and she could never weep and ease it as other women do, for her tears never brought her comfort.... She did not sit long, therefore, but rose and went and called the two brothers, and she said,
"You need not hasten yourself, for he is dead already."
But they answered her call and they did hasten themselves and they came out, the elder with his satin under robes all rumpled with sleep and his hair awry, and they went at once to their father. There he lay as Pear Blossom had straightened him, and these two sons of his stared at him as though they had never seen him before and as though they were half afraid of him now. Then the eldest son said, whispering as though there were some stranger in the room,
"Did he die easily or hardly?"
And Pear Blossom answered in her quiet way,
"He died without knowing he did."
Then the second son said,
"He lies as if he slept and were not dead at all."
When these two sons had stared for a while at their dead father they seemed filled with some vague and confused fear, because he lay there so helpless for them to gaze upon, and Pear Blossom divined their fear and she said gently,
"There is much to be done for him yet."
Then the two men started and they were glad to be reminded of living things again, and the elder smoothed his robes over himself hastily and passed his hand over his face and he said huskily,
"True—true—we must be about his funeral—" and they hastened away, glad to be out of that house where their father lay dead.CHAPTER 2
Now before Wang Lung had died one day he commanded his sons that his body was to be left in its coffin in the earthen house until he was buried in his land. But when his sons came to this time of preparation for his funeral they found it very irksome to come and to go so far from their house in the town, and when they thought of the forty and nine days which must pass before the burial, it seemed to them they could not obey their father, now that he was dead. And indeed it was a trouble to them in many ways, for the priests from the town temple complained because they must come so far to chant, and even the men who came to wash and to dress Wang Lung's body and to put his silken burial robes on him and to lift him into his coffin and seal it, demanded a double fee and they asked so much that Wang the Second was in horror. The two brothers looked at each other, then, over the old man's coffin, and they each thought the same thing, that the dead man could say no more. So they called the tenants and told them to carry Wang Lung into the courts where he had lived in the town house, and Pear Blossom, although she spoke against it, could not prevail with them. When she saw her words useless, she said quietly,
"I thought the poor fool and I would never go to that town house again, but if he goes we must go with him," and she took this fool, who was Wang Lung's eldest daughter and a woman grown in years, but still the same foolish child she had been all her life, and they followed behind Wang Lung's coffin as it went along the country road, and the fool went laughing because the day was fair and warm with spring and the sun shone so brightly.
Thus did Pear Blossom go yet again to the court where she had lived once with Wang Lung alive, and it was to this court that Wang Lung had taken her on a certain day when his blood ran full and free even in his age, and he was lonely in his great house. But the court was silent now, and on every door in the great house the red paper signs had been torn off to show that death was here, and upon the great gates open to the street white paper was pasted for a sign of death. And Pear Blossom lived and slept beside the dead.
One day as she thus waited with Wang Lung in his coffin, a serving maid came to the door of the court and by her Lotus, Wang Lung's first concubine, sent word that she must come and pay her respects to her dead lord. Pear Blossom must return a courteous word, and so she did, although she hated Lotus who had been her old mistress, and she rose and waited, moving a candle here or there as it burned about the coffin.
It was the first time Pear Blossom had seen Lotus since that day when Lotus knew what Wang Lung had done and she sent word to him that she wished never to see Pear Blossom again because she was so angry that he had taken into his own court a girl who had been her slave since childhood. She was so jealous and angry that she pretended not to know if Pear Blossom lived or died. But the truth was she was curious, and now that Wang Lung was dead she had told Cuckoo, her servant,
"Well, if that old man is dead, she and I have no more to quarrel over and I will go and see what she is like now." Thus filled with her curiosity she had waddled out of her court, leaning upon her slaves, and she chose an hour when it was still too early for the priests to be there chanting by the coffin.
Thus she came into the room where Pear Blossom stood waiting, and she had brought candles and incense for decency's sake, and she commanded one of her slaves to light these before the coffin. But while the slave did this, Lotus could not keep her eyes from Pear Blossom and she stared avidly to see how Pear Blossom had changed and to see how old she looked. Yes, although Lotus wore white shoes of mourning upon her feet and robes of mourning, her face did not mourn and she cried to Pear Blossom,
"Well, and you are the same small pale thing you ever were, and you are not changed. I do not know what he ever saw in you!" And she took comfort in this, that Pear Blossom was so small and colorless and without any bold beauty.
Then Pear Blossom stood by the coffin, her head hanging, and she stayed silent, but such a loathing filled her heart that she frightened herself and she was humbled by the knowledge that she could be so evil and hate even her old mistress like this. But Lotus was not one who could keep her old wandering mind even on hatred, and after she had stared her fill at Pear Blossom, she looked at the coffin and muttered,
Excerpted from Sons by Pearl S. Buck. Copyright © 1984 Janice C. Walsh, Richard S. Walsh, John S. Walsh, Mrs. Henrietta C. Walsh, Mrs. Chico C. Singer, Edgar S. Walsh, Mrs. Jean C. Lippincott, and Carol Buck. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted March 11, 2013
The writing of Peral S. Buck is so well written it is easy for the reader to become part of the every day life of the chatacters. Sons, illustrates that children are all different and don't always follow prechosen life paths. The values we hold and develope as individuals shown in the book is applicable today. My local library did not have the final two books following The Good Earth. I so enjoyed reading Sons and look forward to reading third book in the trilogy. 5 stars +.
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Posted January 11, 2013
I love Pearl S Buck's writing style. She uses simple language to express and develop profound thoughts. This trilogy has brought me a deeper understanding of Chinese history, and the history of human nature over all. The characters are fully developed and I was compelled in my reading by a caring for what their futures held.
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