The Pearl

Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3

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The news of the pearl travels fast through Kino's small village. Before Kino and Juana return home, the news had already spread that Kino had found "The Pearl of the World," as it comes to be known. The local priest learns, as well as the doctor who refused to treat Coyotito. When the doctor learns, he tells the patient that he is treating that he must treat Coyotito for a scorpion sting. All manner of people grow interested in Kino, and the news stirs up something infinitely black and evil. The pearl buyers consider how they might deal with Kino and offer him the lowest possible price.

However, Kino and Juana do not know the anger and bitterness they have engendered. Juan Tomas asks Kino what he will do now that he has become rich, and Kino answers that he and Juana will be married in the church. Kino envisions how he will be dressed, and sees Coyotito in a yachting cap and sailor suit from the United States. Kino then imagines buying a rifle. Thinking of the rifle breaks down barriers for Kino, as he imagines the whole lot of things that he might have. He thinks that Coyotito will go to school and learn to read. He claims that "my son will make numbers, and these things will make us free because he will know‹he will know and through him we will know."

The priest visits Kino and Juana, and tells them that he hopes that they will remember to give thanks and to pray for guidance. The doctor also visits, and although Kino tells him that Coyotito is nearly well, the doctor claims that the scorpion sting has a curious effect that comes later and if he is not treated he may suffer blindness or a withered leg. Not sure whether or not the doctor is telling the truth, Kino nevertheless lets him see the baby. The doctor takes a bottle of white powder and a gelatin capsule, and gives Coyotito a pill. The doctor tells them that the medicine may save the baby from pain, but he will come back in an hour to check on him. After the doctor leaves, Kino wraps the pearl in a rag and digs a hole in the dirt floor where he conceals the pearl.

When the doctor returns, he gives Coyotito water with ammonia and tells Kino that the baby will get well now. Kino tells the doctor that he will pay him once he has sold his pearl. The neighbors tell the doctor that Kino has found the Pearl of the World and will be a rich man. The doctor suggests that Kino keep the pearl in his safe, but Kino says that he has it secure. The doctor realizes that Kino will likely look to the place where it is stored, and sees his eyes move to the corner where he had buried it. After the doctor leaves again, Juana asks Kino whom he fears, and he answers Œeveryone.'

That night, Kino thinks that he hears noises in his hut. He grabs his knife and strikes out in the dark. The person scurries out. Juana tells Kino that the pearl is evil and will destroy them. She tells him to throw it away or break it, for it will destroy them. Kino says that the pearl is their one chance, and that the next morning they will sell the pearl.

Analysis:

As the titular object of the novel, the pearl that Kino discovers can symbolize several different ideas or themes. In this chapter, Steinbeck equates the pearl with hope for the future, for it is the means by which Kino and Juana will be able to provide for Coyotito and give him a better life. The pearl also represents a sense of freedom by enabling Kino to educate Coyotito and give him the ability to choose his own profession and way of life apart from the deterministic poverty of his parents. Although the story takes place in Mexico, Steinbeck equates this with the American dream of fortune and prosperity; Kino imagines Coyotito dressed in clothes from the United States.

The discovery of the pearl causes a sharp change in the villagers' reactions to Kino and Juana, for the once unimportant couple become renowned and notorious in La Paz. The pearl gives Kino great importance within La Paz, as demonstrated by the visit from the local priest and the doctor who had just recently refused treatment to Coyotito. However, with this newfound interest in Kino comes the impending feeling of hatred and hostility for him; the discovery causes an anonymous bitterness toward Kino for his great luck, a feeling that he and Juana cannot realize. The hostility directed toward Kino and Juana takes two forms; the first is a general jealousy from the community toward Kino for his luck, while the second is a more specific greed shown by those who wish the pearl for themselves. Steinbeck illustrates this avarice through both the priest and the doctor. In the former case, the priest gives attention to Kino merely as a means to gain some of the money to the church, shamelessly asking Kino to monetarily compensate God for the good fortune he has received.

In the latter, the doctor's newfound interest in Kino stems from a manipulative and dangerous greed. His visit to Kino reveals that he not only wishes to secure part of Kino's new fortune through the salary the doctor might receive for treatment but, as shown by the doctor's attempt to locate the pearl in Kino's hut, that he intends to steal the pearl. Steinbeck makes clear that the doctor does not visit Kino to cure his son; in fact, he indicates that the doctor's treatment of Coyotito might even be superfluous. The suspicious designs of both the doctor and the priest indicate that the danger that Kino faces is not from jealous neighbors who might use the pearl to escape their own poverty, but rather from those whose economic situation is secure and who merely desire greater luxury. Steinbeck thus uses the community reaction to the pearl as social commentary that critiques the ruling class for avarice and exploitation.

The manipulative behavior of the doctor foreshadows greater calamities that Kino and Juana will suffer, which Steinbeck also shows through the anonymous thief who attempts to steal the pearl that night. However, Kino's and Juana's problems are not merely external forces, but are equally internal. Throughout the chapter, Kino and Juana evolve significantly. At first, neither can vocalize the changes that the pearl will make for them, but once they think of the tangible consequences for their newfound fortune they begin to articulate previously impossible and unimaginable dreams. However, Kino and Juana diverge in their later reactions to the pearl. Juana disavows the consequences of the fortune they will receive, finding the scorn and danger that others present to be an insurmountable evil. Kino uses the animosity and danger as reason for suspicion and paranoia, as shown when Kino strikes randomly with his knife when he fears an intruder. He lapses into the instinctual animalism demonstrated in the previous chapter, a quality that will play a significant role in the tragedy to come.

Steinbeck also foreshadows the trouble that Kino will find with the pearl buyers. In his description of the pearl buyers, Steinbeck claims that, although there are many of them, they are essentially one. This aligns with the idea of segments of the community as a collective that permeates The Pearl; as Steinbeck describes the town, it is like "a colonial animal" with its own emotion, essentially a person in itself. The neighbors who comment on the action are not individuals, but rather symbols of their class. Even Juana and Kino exist less as fully-formed individuals and as archetypal representations of man and woman. The pearl buyers, anonymous except for their identity as part of a class, symbolize the ruling elite of La Paz who can exploit Kino.