Indoors, the doctor sits up in bed, surrounded by luxuries. He feasts on biscuits and hot chocolate and thinks nostalgically of Paris. When the servant interrupts the doctor’s reverie to announce Kino’s visit, the doctor bitterly demands to know if Kino has money to pay for the treatment. Kino gives the servant eight small pearls, but soon the servant returns to Kino with them, explaining that the doctor has been called out to attend to a serious case. With this dismissal, the procession breaks up, leaving Kino furious and ashamed. Standing in shock in front of the closed gate, Kino strikes out in anger, smashing his fist into the barrier and bloodying his knuckles.

Analysis

As its short, simple sentences and heavily symbolic moral overtones make evident, The Pearl is based on the form of biblical parable, and the simple natural beauty of the opening scene recalls the beauty and innocence of the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve’s fall. Though the comparison is not made explicitly, it is nevertheless an apt one—like Adam and Eve, Kino and Juana make choices later in the story that cause them to lose their innocence and force them to leave their paradise for the hardships of the wider world. The cluster of brush houses by the sea where Kino and Juana live functions as a kind of paradise, in which man and woman live together in a state of nature. Steinbeck focuses on the family’s rustic simplicity and on its reverence for a higher power. Steinbeck uses repetitious language, which evokes the Bible and other religious literature, to underscore the family’s spirituality. This scriptural structure is especially evident in Steinbeck’s frequent use of the word “and” to drive the narrative: “And a goat came near and sniffed at him”; “And the rhythm of the family song was the grinding stone”; “And he drank a little pulque and that was breakfast.”

Kino’s knowledge of the world is not expansive, but his store of traditional songs and his contented, familiar manner of surveying his meager territory show that he is intimately acquainted with every aspect of the existence he knows. Kino frequently hears traditional songs in his head that express his mood or his sense of his environment—when he is content at home in this chapter, he hears the soothing rhythms of the Song of the Family, for instance, but when he is in trouble later in the novella he hears the alarming Song of Danger. Kino’s inner soundtrack highlights The Pearl’s original conception as a film project—the audience would actually have heard these songs and experienced them as recurring motifs. It also points to the oral nature of Kino’s culture, in which songs are passed down from generation to generation and assume such a position of psychological importance that they actually provide an internal context without which Kino is unable to interpret his own feelings.

Steinbeck seems to suggest that the imminent disruption of Kino’s Eden, like the harmony that precedes it, is the work of a divine power. Like Kino, who observes the ants as though he were a detached God, the God watching over Kino—and indeed all humanity in the text—shows indifference to the cruel combination of successes and failures that people encounter. As Kino surveys the surroundings of his brush house, wild doves fly and ruffled roosters fight, symbolizing the way good and evil haphazardly commingle.

The scorpion that brings terror into Kino’s household represents the work of a divine agent. In Christian literature, scorpions traditionally symbolize evil, and the streak of sunlight that falls on the scorpion as it rests on the hanging box rope seems a heavenly spotlight, setting the drama in motion. With the Song of Evil drowning out the Song of Family, Kino must take control of his family’s destiny after this unkind twist of fate.

Steinbeck’s writing evinces contempt for the town doctor, who surrounds himself with the vulgar trappings of European “civilized living.” To Steinbeck, the doctor’s notion of civilization is utterly materialistic and devoid of the complex spirituality so integral to Kino and Juana’s life. Nevertheless, the doctor’s barbaric beliefs hold sway in this colonial context, and the divide between rich and poor seems racially and inflexibly defined.