The Pearl Summary and Analysis

Chapter 1

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Kino awakes and watches the hanging box where his infant son, Coyotito, sleeps. He then watches his wife, Juana, who has also awakened and rests peacefully. Kino thinks of the Song of the Family, a traditional song of his ancestors, as the dawn comes and Juana begins to prepare breakfast. Kino's ancestors had been great makers of songs, and everything they saw or thought had become a song. Juana sings softly to Coyotito part of the family song. Kino looks at them and thinks that "this is safety, this is warmth, this is the Whole."

Kino sees a movement near the hanging box where Coyotito sleeps. A scorpion moves slowly down the rope supporting the box. Kino thinks of the Song of Evil, the music of the enemy, as the Song of the Family cries plaintively. Kino stands still, ready to grasp the scorpion, but Coyotito shakes the rope and the scorpion falls on him. Kino reaches to catch it, but it falls onto the baby's shoulder and strikes. Kino grabs the scorpion and kills it as Coyotito screams in pain. Juana begins to suck the puncture to remove the poison.

Having heard the baby's screams, Kino's brother, Juan Tomas, and his fat wife Apolonia enter with their children. Juana orders them to find a doctor. The doctor never comes to their cluster of brush houses, so Juana decides to go to the doctor herself. The event becomes a neighborhood affair, for Juan Tomas and Apolonia accompany them and even the beggars in front of the church follow Juana as she marches toward the doctor. Kino feels weak as he approaches the doctor's home, for the doctor is not of his race and thus believes that Kino's people are simple animals.

Kino tells the doctor's servant that his child was poisoned by a scorpion. The doctor is a fat man who longs for civilized living. Although the doctor is at home, he refuses to treat Coyotito unless he knows that he has money. The servant asks if Kino has money, and when he can only offer small seed pearls, the servant tells Kino that the doctor has gone out. Kino strikes the gate with his fist, splitting his knuckles.

Analysis:

The Pearl takes place among an impoverished Mexican-Indian community in La Paz. Although the story involves essentially only this couple, Steinbeck uses Kino and Juana as symbolic of the community in which they live. Steinbeck constructs Kino as an everyman with concerns typical of persons of all social stations. As shown by his encounter with the scorpion, Kino is a devoted father who dotes on his infant son and adores his wife. Quite importantly, as the story begins Kino is perfectly content with his situation, despite his lack of material possessions and difficult existence. As Kino watches his family, he believes that this is the "whole," the entirety of everything he really needs. This is significant, for this early contentment contrasts with the later panic that Kino and Juana will feel once they receive hope for a better future. Juana, whose name even translates into Œwoman,' symbolizes a feminine ideal that complements Kino's masculine prototype.

Nevertheless, despite the serene description with which Steinbeck begins The Pearl, he also establishes that this existence is a precarious one; Coyotito's encounter with the scorpion illustrates this possibility of danger that the family faces at all times and brings into focus the magnitude of their poverty, showing that their poverty places a tangible price on their existence that Kino may not be able to pay. The scorpion is a symbol of the furtive dangers that threaten Kino and his family, able to strike furtively at any moment. It is therefore analogous to the other enemies that will threaten Kino and Juana: the scorpion secretly enters the house and strikes at them indirectly, instead of presenting a direct and open challenge to them.

The critical situation that Kino's family faces is significant to show the great importance of the fortune that Kino will receive, for it provides not only the possibility of material goods but may buy the life of his child. Kino's encounter with the doctor sharply illustrates this, as the doctor essentially allows Coyotito to die because Kino cannot pay for treatment.

Although Kino and Juana are representative of the larger community in which they live, this community itself becomes significant in terms of the development of the story. This village takes on a character of its own; this is shown in particular when Juana and Kino visit the doctor and their neighbors follow in a near procession. These nameless villagers serve as a form of chorus on the action of the story, commenting on the developments and judging the decisions and events that occur to Kino. The idea of community is also significant in terms of the various songs that Kino remembers. These songs are entirely symbolic, meant to place Kino in the larger, less personal context as a member of a community with a sense of heritage and to reinforce his status as an everyman. The two songs that Kino remembers during this chapter, the Song of the Family and the Song of Evil, also place the story in a context with diametric opposites; the story is largely a parable with defined parameters of good and evil.

Steinbeck uses the doctor who refuses to treat Coyotito as a symbol of the forces of oppression that Kino and Juana face. The doctor represents the societal system that places a monetary value on human life, as well as the obstacles that Kino and Juana face. The racial divide between the doctor and Kino plays a considerable role in his refusal to treat Coyotito; although this aspect of the story is not omnipresent, this presents an additional element of adversity that Kino and Juana must endure.

In this chapter, Steinbeck foreshadows eventual changes in Kino's character when he smashes his fist on the doctor's gate. This event shows that Kino reverts to violence and anger when confronted with adversity, yet when he does so he hurts only himself.