The Pearl

by: John Steinbeck

Chapter 5

Summary Chapter 5

That afternoon, Kino and Juana crouch together in silence, listening to the neighbors discuss them among the ashes outside. Most of the neighbors assume that Kino and Juana are dead, but Juan Tomás suggests that perhaps the family has fled to the south to escape persecution. As he moves back and forth among the neighbors, he returns to his house from time to time, bringing bits and pieces of provisions that will help Kino and Juana on their journey.

That evening, Kino tells Juan Tomás his plan to travel to the cities of the north. Juan Tomás advises him to avoid the coast, as a search party will be on the lookout for him. When Juan Tomás asks if Kino still has the pearl, Kino responds that he does and that he intends to hold on to it. At dark, before the moon rises, Kino, Juana, and Coyotito exchange parting words with Juan Tomás and Apolonia, and head out into the night.

Analysis

Once Kino beats Juana, he begins to lose everything as rapidly as he gained the Pearl of the World. Kino loses his self-respect as a husband by beating Juana, his integrity as a law-abiding citizen by killing his attacker, his birthright in the form of the destroyed canoe, and his home, burned to the ground by an arsonist. Furthermore, Kino’s senses become “dulled by his emotion” in his determination to overcome adversity and gain what he feels to be rightfully his by selling the pearl. He has lost the capacity to feel guilt, so he doesn’t regret striking his wife or killing another man. As Kino’s ambition to improve his family’s lot strengthens, his ability to see to his family’s well-being weakens. He exposes his son to questionable medical treatment and abuses his wife, all to achieve the material success he wants for them.

Kino’s attempts to safeguard the pearl predispose him to violence in defense of his property. In the heat of battle, he loses control and succumbs to his basest human instincts: he murders his assailant. Once he crosses the line from defender to aggressor, Kino suddenly finds himself with nothing to gain and everything to lose. After Kino kills a man, the thought of improving his family is lost—the only thing that remains is to save himself and his family. Kino associates himself with his pearl, remarking to Juan Tomás that whereas he once might have given the pearl away as a gift, his many troubles have grafted the pearl to him. Kino sees the pearl as both a burden and a promise, and refuses to give it up.

Amid Kino’s monomania (obsessive focus on a single idea), Juana remains tethered to and trapped in an increasingly disastrous situation. Though she sees Kino as “half insane and half god,” she cannot imagine living without a man. Because of her position as a wife in a traditional society, Juana is necessarily subservient to Kino. She must follow what he views as his larger ambitions, even though her good sense cautions against it as their situation becomes increasingly desperate. Unfortunately, although Juana’s good sense demands that the pearl—the essence of her former hopes—be thrown away, her subservience leads her to drag herself up and return the pearl to her husband.