When O-lan, a servant girl, marries the peasant Wang Lung, she toils tirelessly through four pregnancies for their family's survival. Reward at first is meagre, but there is sustenance in the land - until the famine comes. Half-starved, the family joins thousands of peasants to beg on the city streets. It seems that all is lost, until O-lan's desperate will to survive returns them home with undreamt of wealth. But they have betrayed the earth from which true wealth springs, and the family's money breeds only mistrust, deception - and heartbreak for the woman who had saved them.