The Pearl

by: John Steinbeck

Chapter 2

Summary Chapter 2

The narrator reveals the natives’ willingness to accept both old and new belief systems when he asserts that “the finding of [a pearl] was luck, a little pat on the back by God or the gods, or both.” Juana’s willingness to appeal to anything that works—monotheism, polytheism, superstition—exemplifies this religious ambivalence. When Juana prays as Kino dives into the sea to search for pearls, her faith in “things of the spirit” is further revealed to be incomplete. Instead of praying for Coyotito to heal magically, which seems an impossible occurrence, Juana prays for Kino to find a pearl large enough to pay for the doctor’s services, an occurrence that is only improbable. Juana’s prayer suggests a belief not in divine miracles but in luck. It also shows her acceptance of, or defeat by, the capitalist system—she wishes for a pearl that will provide the means to purchase the healing powers of a doctor. By intimating that one should ask directly for what one wants, Steinbeck portrays Juana’s indirect appeal as foolish. His intention is not to patronize the natives but rather to suggest the shortsightedness of all people.

The “ghostly gleam” of the oyster that bears the unusually large pearl suggests the pearl’s extraordinary significance and supernatural quality. Clearly, this pearl is unlike any other; it seems as though fate (and, of course, Steinbeck himself) has placed it in Kino’s hands in his most desperate hour. Steinbeck thus positions the pearl to be the focal point for the development of Kino’s character over the course of the novella.