O-lan lays dying for several months. Her illness makes Wang and the entire family realize how important she was in the smooth running of their lives. In fact, the transition is very difficult and very few of the household chores are adequately compensated for once O-lan goes away. The old father calls out for her to no avail, and even the poor fool suffers since no one remembers to call her inside during the rain. Wang is angry and yells at his children for their poor management but he realizes how irreplaceable O-lan is in the house.
Throughout the winter, Wang ignores the land and concentrates on O-lan, saying that he would sell all his land if it could heal her. Still, though he wishes to prevent her death, he knows that it is impending and so he makes preparations by buying a sturdy coffin. In her pain, O-lan reveals some glances of her hard past, and Wang tries to soothe her but he is still repulsed by her appearance. Because he cannot overcome this repulsion, he tries to compensate by giving O-lan special foods and neglecting Lotus.
One day, O-lan resolves to Cuckoo that she is still a slave, while O-lan has become a wife and mother. Wang ushers Cuckoo out of the room before she can respond. O-lan also tells Wang that if Cuckoo or Lotus alters her things, she will curse them after she is dead. The New Year arrives, and O-lan has apparently regained a great deal of strength. She asks Wang to send for the eldest daughter of Liu, so that she can tell her what to do after O-lan passes. Liu is not unwilling, since the maiden is now of age, so she is sent to the house to stay and adhere to O-lan's guidance. Both Wang and O-lan are pleased with her.
O-lan makes one final request, saying that she needs the eldest son to return home to wed the girl so that she can die knowing that Wang's grandson is on its way and she has done her duty. Wang does not like the talk about dying, but he agrees and sends a man to search for his son and bid him return home for his wedding feast. Cuckoo is charged with preparing the meal, and Wang invites many people to attend. He is especially courteous to his uncle, treating him like an honored guest.
His son returns, and Wang forgets his past indiscretions, happy only to see that he has grown more distinguished in his time away from home. O-lan is happy as well, telling him that after he is wed, she must die.
Cuckoo and Lotus carefully prepare the bride for marriage, and the day proceeds with great merriment and approval. O-lan calls the newlywed couple to her room to partake in the ceremonial rice and wine to symbolize their marriage. Afterwards, the great feasting begins with exquisite varieties of food. O-lan participates on the periphery through Wang, who comes to see her throughout the night to tell her what is happening.
That night, after all the guests depart, O-lan calls the couple over to her again and reminds them they only have an obligation to their immediate blood family. She begins to mutter about how she has borne sons even though she is ugly, so Wang herds the two out of the room. He then sits beside her, ashamed that he agrees that she is unattractive and ghastly. That night, O-lan dies.
After her death, Wang tries to remove himself from any contact with O-lan's body. The town geomancer predicts that the best burial day is three months away, so he stores the coffin and body in a nearby temple until the date arrives. He even moves entirely into Lotus' court and bids the newlywed couple to move into the old house.
As if death lingered in the house, Wang's old father also passes in the same time period, but instead of sending the coffin away, Wang holds it in the middle room of their house to wait for the burial date (the same as O-lan's).
On the burial date, priests from the Taoist temple come to recite chants over the bodies. O-lan the old father are buried in the fields, under a date tree, and there is room made to allow burial for the entire family when each member's time arrives. Wang hires sedans to carry his entire family, even Lotus, to the cemetery. There is great mourning and weeping at the graves.
After the graves are covered with dirt, Wang walks home alone, with the solitary regret that he wished he had not taken the two pearls from O-lan and given them to Lotus. He tells himself that the first part of his life is now buried, and now he lives the second half, which is altogether different. With this thought, he sheds a few tears but he wipes them away like a child.
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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