The Pearl

by: John Steinbeck

Kino

Kino’s eyes opened, and he looked first at the lightening square which was the door and then he looked at the hanging box where Coyotito slept. And last he turned his head to Juana, his wife, who lay beside him on the mat, her blue head shawl over her nose and over her breasts and around the small of her back.

As The Pearl begins, Kino awakens in his simple hut with his wife and child surrounding him. The details provided by the narrator in this section show the reader the importance of family and traditional ways to Kino. He first glances out the door at the dawn, and he next glances at his family. This emblematic scene sets in relief the simple life and its pleasures that Kino will lose throughout the course of the book.

And to Kino the secret melody of the maybe pearl broke clear and beautiful, rich and warm and lovely, glowing and gloating and triumphant. In the surface of the great pearl he could see dreams form.

The narrator explains that once Kino has found the enormous pearl, his mind immediately begins to think of all the opportunity the pearl will generate for his family. The pearl will bring him wealth, which he can use to obtain an education for his son Coyotito, and thus a different life than he and his forefathers have had. In the pearl, Kino sees freedom from his life as a poor, insignificant, exploited fisherman.

And to meet the attack, Kino was already making a hard skin for himself against the world. His eyes and his mind probed for danger before it appeared.

Once Kino has announced his ambitious plans for his family, only accessible now because of the value of the pearl, he knows that he has put himself at risk. As the narrator explains here, even before any attempts to steal the pearl have been made, Kino understands the envy the pearl engenders in his neighbors. He hopes to protect himself from whatever may happen by remaining alert and disconnecting himself from the community.

Kino felt the rage and hatred melting toward fear. He did not know, and perhaps this doctor did. And he could not take the chance of pitting his certain ignorance against this man’s possible knowledge. He was trapped as his people were always trapped, and would be until, as he had said, they could be sure that the things in the books were really in the books.

The narrator explains that when the doctor offers to treat Coyotito, Kino, descending from oppressed people, initially feels suspicious and fearful. He can’t afford to follow his own instincts, however, and turn the supposedly well-educated doctor away. Kino’s understanding that, until his community can gain education and literacy, they must take the word of even those men they distrust, underscores the importance of his dreams for Coyotito. The pearl has opened up not just the possibility of wealth but of self-actualization.

But Kino was pushing his way through the crowd. The hum of talk came to him dimly, his rage blood pounded in his ears, and he burst through and strode away.

The narrator describes how, having received ridiculously low offers from the pearl dealers, Kino refuses to do business with them. While he rightfully understands that they treat him unscrupulously, the pearl has spread such evil that Kino can’t perceive his situation rationally. Instead of using the pearl dealers’ realization that they played too hard against him as an entry into negotiations, Kino storms away with nothing but the pearl.

But Kino had lost his old world and he must clamber on to a new one. For his dream of the future was real and never to be destroyed, and he had said, “I will go,” and that made a real thing too. To determine to go and to say it was to be halfway there.

Despite spending his entire life in his community, Kino determines to go to the capital to sell his pearl. Such a journey poses many challenges for him, both logistically and emotionally. Yet Kino remains intractably committed to the promising future for his family that the pearl has introduced. As explained by the narrator here, Kino already perceives his vision for his family as real and will pursue that future at all costs.

Her arm was up to throw when he leaped at her and caught her arm and wrenched the pearl from her. He struck her in the face with his clenched fist and she fell among the boulders, and he kicked her in the side.

Nothing demonstrates the malevolent influence of the pearl more clearly than Kino’s attack on Juana as detailed by the narrator here. Recognizing the terrible changes the pearl has brought to her husband and the community, Juana attempts to give the pearl back to the sea. Kino instinctively responds to her effort in anger, beating her viciously. Kino’s actions demonstrate how completely the seductive power of the pearl has taken over his life.

The music of the pearl was triumphant in Kino’s head, and the quiet melody of the family underlay it, and they wove themselves into the soft padding of sandaled feet in the dust.

On the way to Loreto, Kino thinks he has escaped the dangers of the attacks and the people who would steal his pearl. He believes that with each step he draws closer to fulfilling his destiny. Kino, entirely focused on his family and his desire to help them with the riches he will earn, mistakenly believes he can leave his community and his past behind, and so he feels—at this moment—content.

It was the watcher Kino must find—must find quickly and without hesitation. Silently he drew the amulet string over his shoulder and loosened the loop from the horn handle of his great knife.

Possession of the pearl has brought Kino to the point where he feels that he must either kill or be killed. Here, the narrator explains a scene in which Kino has turned into the hunter, going after the three trackers following him, to ensure his and his family’s survival. This episode depicts the first instance of Kino deliberately planning a murder. The escalation of Kino’s acts of violence shows his radical transformation from the man he was before finding the pearl.

The two came from the rutted country road into the city, and they were not walking in single file, Kino ahead and Juana behind, as usual, but side by side. . . . Kino had a rifle across his arm and Juana carried her shawl like a sack over her shoulder.

Here, the narrator describes when Kino and Juana return to their community with terrible burdens: Juana holds the baby’s body and Kino holds the rifle that was the instrument of his death. This juxtaposition highlights the incalculable cost of the pearl to Kino’s family. Kino allowed himself to be carried away by his dreams of the future, including his own personal desire for a rifle. Now he owns the rifle but has lost his son.