The Pearl

Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2

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Kino and Juana walk slowly down the beach to Kino's canoe, the one thing of value that he owns. The canoe is old, bought by Kino's grandfather, and is the source of food for Kino. It is their most important possession, for "a man with a boat can guarantee a woman that she will eat something." Coyotito still suffers from the scorpion bite: the swelling on his shoulder continues up his neck and his face is puffed and feverish. Juana makes a poultice from brown seaweed. This poultice is "as good a remedy as any and probably better than the doctor could have done."

Kino and Juana get into the canoe so that Kino can find pearl oysters that may pay for the treatment for Coyotito. Kino dives for pearl oysters, where he thinks of the Song of the Pearl That Might Be and the Song of the Undersea. Kino works steadily under the water until he sees a large oyster lying by itself with its shell partly open, revealing what seems to be a massive pearl. Kino forces the oyster loose and holds it tightly against him.

When Kino comes up for air, Juana can sense his excitement. Kino opens the various oysters he had caught, leaving the largest one for last. He worries that the large pearl he saw was merely a reflection, for "in this Gulf of uncertain light there were more illusions than realities." Finally, Kino opens the oyster to see a rich, perfectly curved pearl. Juana lifts the poultice of seaweed from Coyotito to see that the swelling has begun to recede. Kino puts back his head and howls, causing the men in other canoes to look up and race toward Kino's canoe.

Analysis:

Steinbeck continues to detail the extreme poverty in which Kino and Juana live; not only can they not afford their own canoe so that Kino may perform his job as a pearl diver, they must use a canoe that is several generations old. This is important, for it gives greater weight to the discovery of the pearl, which could raise them from a meager existence into some sense of security.

The canoe is a symbol of Kino's heritage, a relic passed down from his grandfather, but it also represents Kino's role as a provider for his family. Steinbeck generalizes the statement that a man with a canoe can ensure that his wife will never go hungry to illustrate Kino's status as an everyman and to emphasize the distinct roles and duties of a husband and father.

The life that Kino and Juana lead is also an antiquated one; when the doctor refuses to treat Coyotito, Juana relies on primitive methods to cure her son. Steinbeck does not offer a sharp critique of these methods. Instead, he finds them more than adequate to the task and perhaps better than the treatment that the doctor might offer. In this novel, Steinbeck gives greater emphasis and value to traditional behaviors and even primitivism over modern conveniences and, in particular, those who have those luxuries.

Kino's occupation as a pearl diver demonstrates the small chance that he and his family have for success. Pearl diving is a largely fruitless task that relies on the small chance for finding suitable oysters undersea and generally offers only the bare sustenance that maintains Juana and Kino. In effect, pearl diving is an act of desperation that further bolsters descriptions of Kino's poverty. It is the only hope that Kino and Juana have.

Nevertheless, Kino immediately realizes that he has found an impressive pearl when he finds the oyster during his dive, leaving this large oyster as the final one to be opened. This creates a sense of tension and anticipation, as Kino realizes the significance of the pearl he has found. Steinbeck even bolsters the idea of fortuitous chance by juxtaposing the discovery of the pearl with Juana's realization that Coyotito has been cured, thus linking these two events, both of which provide great hope for Kino and Juana. However, even upon the discovery of the pearl Steinbeck foreshadows the later difficulties that might occur. Kino reverts to animalistic behavior once he finds the pearl, literally howling in joy. The pearl causes Kino to revert to instinctual behavior, a change that will have dangerous and disastrous consequences.