in chapter 2
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Okay those are a few questions. The people in the town were astonished and filled with gossip. They were superstitious too.
Though The Pearl’s narrative seems to suggest that greed is the first step to destruction, in this chapter Steinbeck focuses not on greed but on ambition—Kino’s desire to use the wealth offered by the pearl to better his life and the life of his family. Steinbeck portrays this kind of benevolent desire for advancement as a trait unique to humanity, one that has made humankind superior to all animals. Kino’s neighbors have trouble figuring whether Kino’s ambition will bring him success or suffering. They too are intoxicated by the awe-inspiring prospect of Kino owning a rifle or Coyotito receiving an education, but these propositions are so far removed from their sense of what is possible that they react to them with a natural suspicion. The neighbors are only able to think about the pearl in terms of their preexisting narratives. Because they have an ancient legend about a great “Pearl That Might Be,” they believe that that legend has come to fruition in Kino’s pearl, which they dub the “Pearl of the World.” They do not conceive of the pearl as simply a valuable lucky break for Kino; for them, the pearl has deep moral and spiritual significance. By relating the stories the neighbors trade, Steinbeck shows how the human mind turns real experience into parable through the act of storytelling.
For us, the neighbors’ suspicion of Kino’s good fortune seems justified, based on Steinbeck’s tentative tone and on his remarks that the gods disregard men’s plans and only allow men success if it comes by accident. Steinbeck asserts that when human agency actually does bring about success (through the exercise of a benevolent ambition like Kino’s, for example), “the gods take their revenge on a man.” In this way, Steinbeck completely negates the value system of the American dream. Hard work and openness to opportunity, the main components of the traditional American dream, are meaningless in a malevolent universe in which “the gods” conspire against every individual’s desire to improve his or her lot in life.
Because his pearl is worth so much money, Kino believes it offers him a chance to realize his ambitious dreams and free himself from the shackles of colonialism. But what keeps Kino from fulfilling his ambitions is his lack of knowledge. Kino may be able to pay the doctor to heal his son, but he is ignorant as to whether he is making the right choice—perhaps the doctor is in fact poisoning his son. Kino is well aware of his predicament, and his desire for his son to obtain an education shows Kino’s recognition that education provides the only possible escape from colonial oppression. But in his single-minded pursuit of success and wealth for his son, Kino abandons the nurturing aspects of his fatherly duty. Kino leaves Juana alone to care for the ailing Coyotito while he, Kino, focuses his attentions on finding a place to conceal the pearl.
As Kino shifts his focus to providing for his son in material rather than emotional ways, he makes a corresponding shift from peaceful coexistence in his village to violent, paranoid suspicion of his neighbors. Now that Kino has acquired wealth, he is obligated to defend that wealth from potential usurpers. Ultimately, this shift in preoccupation demonstrates that wealth has a dehumanizing effect on those who possess it, such as the doctor and Kino, and on those who desire it, such as the intruder who comes to steal the pearl. The intruder is described in vague, inhuman terms that portray him as an unidentifiable mass of clothing. Kino even refers to him as “the thing,” as though he were a plague sent against Kino rather than another human being. At this point in the story, however, only Juana seems to recognize that the pearl is an evil instrument that will bring her family pain and heartache.
Evil comes in strange packages, certainly the Pearl was auspicious. Juana was more cautious than Kino about the Pearl. The doctor had refused to treat the baby citing evil and....a scorpion sting. After the pearl's discovery the doctor obviously wants a part of the Pearl so he says only he can treat the child.