The Pearl

by: John Steinbeck

Primitivity

1

Kino looked down at her and his teeth were bared. He hissed at her like a snake, and Juana stared at him with wide unfrightened eyes, like a sheep before the butcher.

Here, the narrator explains that after Juana attempts to get rid of the pearl, Kino attacks her, marking the beginning of his transformation from an honest, simple husband and father into a savage individual, prone to primal behavior. The Kino before the discovery of the pearl turned his anger where such emotion was deserved, like toward the scorpion that stung Coyotito, or inward, such as when he punched the gate after the doctor refused to treat the baby. The pearl, however, has untethered Kino from his essential humanity. Like a vicious animal, he becomes a creature driven by base instincts.

2

The canoe of his grandfather, plastered over and over, and a splintered hole broken in it . . . He was an animal now, for hiding, for attacking, and he lived only to preserve himself and his family.

The narrator explains that upon discovering that someone has destroyed his canoe, Kino fully regresses into a bestial, instinctive condition, focused solely on survival. In his mind, the pearl and the wealth the pearl will bring form the link to that survival, so he will fight anyone who tries to take either away. Because he has moved so far outside his normal bonds of humanity, he fails to see the canoe as symbolic of the destructive nature of the pearl. Kino has lost the capability of rational thought and instead acts according to his instincts.

3

He knew these inland hunters. In a country where there was little game they managed to live because of their ability to hunt, and they were hunting him. They scuttled over the ground like animals[.]

While journeying to Loreto, Kino and Juana are tracked by a trio who clearly have heard of the pearl and want it for themselves. Two of the men more closely resemble dogs than humans as they keep their eyes and noses close to the ground while searching for indications of the family’s trail. And while the hunters represent beasts of prey, Kino and his family have become the hunted animals. No one demonstrates even the most basic forms of humanity. Instead, they have reverted to a more primitive way of life.

4

Kino was taking off his white clothes, for dirty and ragged though they were they would show up against the dark night. His own brown skin was a better protection for him.

The narrator explains why, at the moment when he sets off to kill the trackers, Kino camouflages himself by shedding the clothing that represents his final link to civilized society. In stripping himself naked, Kino most completely transforms himself into an animal focused on hunting other animals to ensure his own survival. In this new form, Kino’s clothing, which normally serves to protect the human body from the natural elements, would only hinder and even endanger him.