The Pearl

Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4

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In La Paz, the entire town knew that Kino was going to sell the pearl that day. Kino's neighbors speak of what they might do with the pearl. One man says that he would give it as a present to the Pope, while another said he would buy Masses for the souls of his family for a thousand years, while another thought he would distribute it among the poor of La Paz. Everyone worries that the pearl will destroy Kino and Juana.

Before leaving to sell the pearl, Juan Tomas warns Kino and Juana to get the best price for the pearl, and tells him how their ancestors got an agent to sell their pearls, but this agent ran off with the pearls. Kino had heard the story told as a warning of punishment against those who try to leave their station. Kino and Juana, followed by neighbors, reach the offices of the pearl buyers.

The pearl dealer inspects the pearl and tells him that his pearl is like fool's gold, for it is too large and valuable only as a curiosity. Kino cries out that it is the Pearl of the World, and no one has ever seen such a pearl. The dealer offers a thousand pesos, to which Kino says that it is worth fifty thousand and the dealer wants to cheat him. The dealer tells Kino to ask the others around him. Kino can feel the evil around him as other dealers inspect the pearl. One dealer refuses the pearl altogether, while a second dealer offers five hundred pesos. Kino tells them that he will go to the capital. The dealer offers fifteen hundred pesos, but Kino leaves with the pearl.

That night, the townspeople argue whether Kino should have accepted the money, which was still more than he would have ever seen. Kino buries the pearl again that night, and remains terrified at the world around him. Juan Tomas tell Kino that he has defied not only the pearl buyers, but the whole structure of life, and he fears for his brother. Juan Tomas warns him that he treads on new ground. Juan Tomas reminds Kino that his friends will protect him only if they are not in danger, and tells him "Go with God" before he departs.

In the middle of the night, Kino feels a sense of evil from outside of his brush house, and he prepares to wield his knife. Kino steps outside to see if there are prowlers. Juana can hear noise from outside, so she picks up a stone and steps out of their hut. She finds Kino with blood running down his scalp and a long cut in his cheek from ear to chin. Juana once again tells Kino that the pearl is evil and they must destroy it. Kino insists that he will not be cheated, for he is a man.

Analysis:

Steinbeck begins the chapter with the reactions of the people of La Paz, who propose what they might do if they were to find a pearl of such great value. Their reactions reveal a sense of animosity toward Kino, for the great plans for charity that these people suggest contrast with the seemingly self-interested ideas that Kino proposed in the previous chapter. This is important to show the undercurrent of criticism for Kino. Steinbeck suggests the jealousy that people have for his good fortune. Additionally, the idealistic and charitable ideas that people propose reveal a simplistic attitude toward receiving such a great fortune; as Steinbeck has shown and will continue to show, Kino and Juana do not face easy decisions with regard to their newfound fortune, and in fact may be in serious danger.

The pearl dealer, who symbolizes the ruling elite classes, proves to be another example of a manipulative professional man akin to the priest and the doctor. He shamelessly attempts to cheat Kino out of his money, offering a price that seems far too low for such a pearl; although there remains the possibility that the pearl may be an oddity with little practical value, the numerous attempts to steal the pearl, perhaps instigated by the pearl dealers, suggest otherwise. Kino's refusal is no small feat; as Juan Tomas declares, he has defied the structure of life around him. This places the parable in a larger political context, suggesting that a hierarchy around Kino works to exploit him and others of his station and resists any attempts to shift this social order. This idea is bolstered by the story concerning the pearl agent in which punishment is inflicted upon those who attempt to secure a better station for themselves.

However, although Kino repudiates the idea that punishment should be inflicted on those who reach for higher social status, Steinbeck has conflicting ideas concerning this idea. Although Steinbeck is quite sympathetic to Kino and Juana, casting them as the protagonists of the story in comparison to the greedy, manipulative and one-dimensional villains such as the doctor and the pearl buyers, the very structure of the story seems to suggest that Kino and Juana will pay a great price for their aspirations. For finding the pearl and attempting to sell it, Kino and Juana are physically threatened, suffer a silent condemnation from their neighbors, and are besieged by opportunists, while they were content in their poverty, a situation which Kino thought was "the whole."

Steinbeck continues to demonstrate that the pearl has more detrimental consequences for Kino and Juana than benefits. Only two days after having found the pearl, Kino has suffered two robbery attempts and has been assaulted once. These threats against Kino strengthen his resolve, however, causing him to obstinately fight for the pearl and revert to brutal behavior. The attacks against Kino are an affront to his masculinity, as shown by his constant avowal that he is a man and thus cannot be cheated. This helps to illustrate the definition of masculinity that Steinbeck deals with throughout The Pearl. While earlier the idea of masculinity meant providing for one's family, for Kino it now encompasses receiving just and respectful treatment.

Juana serves as the lone voice of reason, continuing to warn Kino of the disastrous consequences of the pearl. As Kino becomes more and more consumed by his paranoia and impulses, it is Juana who remains maintains a realistic appraisal of the effects of the pearl. For Juana, the pearl represents a great evil and suffering, a sharp change from the sense of hope and freedom that it originally symbolized. The irony of this situation is notable: the pearl that would secure prosperity and stability for Kino and Juana instead offers them only pain and danger.