The Pearl by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was born in California in 1902. His books focus mainly on people who struggle to fit in. His most famous book,The Grapes of Wrath, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in Literature. He was also awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in literature. The Pearl is about some Indians and this magic pearl they find. Like his other novels, this book focuses on the dangers of greed.
Kino: One of the main people in the story. He is a father, a good guy who works hard, and is happy. He and his family are poor but they want to be rich. His job is a pearl diver.
Juana: Kino’s wife. She’s a good wife. She obeys her husband, but is a pretty independent and smart chick.
Coyotito: Kino’s and Juana’s baby son. A scorpion bites him. Then in the end he is accidentally shot.
Village Doctor: A jerky Spanish guy who hates Indians. He refuses to treat Coyotito because his family is poor. All this guy cares about is money.
Juan Tomas: Kino’s brother. He is a smart dude and helps out Kino in life.
Kino sits around enjoying nature. Coyotito is stung by a scorpion. Then everyone in the village comes to help. Juana wants to go to the doctor, but the only doctor is a Spanish dude, and he is racist towards Indians. So the villagers think that if he won’t come to their houses, they’ll go to him. Juana and Kino take Coyotito to the doc’s house. The doctor refuses to do anything because they are poor. Kino gets pissed and punches the front gate of the doc’s house.
Kino and Juana go fishing. They find this big ass pearl. They are happy because the pearl is worth a lot of money, and they can get sell the pearl and have money to pay for stuff like Coyotito’s medical bills. Kino takes the pearl back to his village and everyone is jealous. Some dude tries to steal the pearl from Kino’s house. Then Kino goes to town to sell it but all the buyers are corrupt and pretend it’s not worth anything. Kino decides to go to the big city to sell it and is mugged (the thieves don’t get the pearl). Juana hates the pearl because all it has brought is bad things so she tries to throw it in the ocean. Kino gets mad and stops her and then gives her an ass-whooping. Then Kino is attacked by two dudes. Kino fights them off and kills one of the dudes.
Kino and Juana decide to escape because Kino is now a wanted man. Their house and all their stuff is burned, so they leave the village. Some people follow them to try and catch them. They escape to the mountains and realize that there are three people tailing them. They hide in a cave. Kino figures out the only way he’ll live is if he kills the people following him while they sleep. He goes to their "camp." Then Coyotito makes a noise and one of the dudes hears him, so he shoots into the cave. Kino attacks the men and kills all three. Then Kino goes into the cave and realizes that the guy shot his son. Then Kino and Juana go back to town, carrying the very dead Coyotito. He puts down Coyotito, and throws the pearl into the water because all it did was bring trouble.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
- The beginning of the story is just a long description about Kino’s village. It is an Indian village in Mexico.
- Kino wakes up and he and Juana eat breakfast.
- Kino sings some traditional song about family and it makes him happy.
- Then a scorpion crawls into Coyotito’s crib and stings him.
- Kino gets mad and kills the scorpion. The baby is hurt and then the whole village comes to see what’s going on
- Juana tells Kino to get the doctor. It’s hard for her to call the doctor because the Indians are poor and the doctor is a rich jerk and he doesn’t care about Indians because they are poor
- Juana realizes the doctor isn’t coming to the village so she takes Coyotito to his house for treatment.
- So all of the villagers, Juana, and Kino go to the doctor’s house for help. They get there and the doctor won’t let them in.
- The doctor acts like a real jerk and insults the Indian people. Kino gets mad and punches the gate outside the doc’s house.
- The rest of this chapter just describes the difference between the doctor and the villagers -- he’s a rich, snazzy dude and the villagers are poor.
- The author starts this chapter by describing the beach and the gulf.
- Kino’s canoe is a family heirloom and is important to Kino because that is how he makes his living (going in the canoe and diving for pearls).
- Kino and Juana go to the beach. Kino wants to look for some pearls. Juana puts seaweed on Coyotito’s bite (seaweed is some kinda medicine).
- Kino and Juana go out into the water looking for pearls. Kino hopes that he will find some huge pearl that will make them rich (so they can pay the doctor).
- He hears some song about pearls (Kino always hears song in this book, the songs fit his mood or action).
- Kino dives into the water and finds this really big pearl.
- He is happy because this big pearl will make him rich.
- He and Juana don’t act too happy though because they don’t want to upset the Indian gods.
- They notice that Coyotito’s bite has started to heal.
- The author compares Kino’s village to an animal because it has emotions, a body, etc.
- Kino and Juana go home with this big pearl. When they get there, everyone in the village is there and knows they have this huge pearl. Now that Kino and Juana are rich, everyone wants a hand out.
- The priest wants money to repair the church. The rich doctor finally says that he will treat Coyotito (now that Kino has some money).
- Then the book talks about the pearl buyers. They are these shady guys, who all work for the same man. They like to trick people into selling their pearls for low prices.
- Everyone in the village becomes jealous of Kino and they begin to hate him.
- Kino’s brother, Juan, asks him what he’s gonna do with his new found cash.
- Kino says he wants to have a fancy wedding, and buy a gun. A gun is social status thing to the Indians.
- Some priest comes to visit Kino. When the priest gets there Kino hears some song about evil. The priest kisses Kino’s ass, and tells him that he is a great man and that the church will honor him. Then he asks Kino to share some of his money with the church.
- The doctor comes to Kino’s house. He says that Coyotito is still sick (even though the baby is fine now).
- Kino and Juana don’t know anything about medicine.
- The doc gives the baby some poison powder so he will get sick again. The doctor wants the baby to get sick so he can come back, give it medical care, then take more money from Kino.
- When the doc leaves, Kino hides the pearl.
- Then Coyotito gets sick (from the powder) and the doc comes back. He tries to get Kino reveal where the pearl is.
- Kino looks at where he hid it. So the doc now knows and he leaves.
- Then some robber comes in the middle of the night for the pearl. Kino wakes up and fights him and gets hurt.
- Juana asks Kino to get rid of the pearl because it is a big headache. She thinks they’ll have a lot more trouble if they keep it.
- Kino says no because he wants to be rich.
- Kino gets ready to sell the pearl. The whole process is a big ceremony. Juana is dresses in her wedding skirt.
- Juan tells Kino to watch his ass because the pearl buyers are cheats and are very corrupt. He tells him some story about guys with pearls getting killed when trying to sell them
- Some priest says a prayer about money and how people shouldn’t change when they’re rich
- Then Kino goes to talk to the pearl buyers. They pretend that the pearl isn’t worth anything (because they want to buy this huge pearl for a low price).
- They offer him little money, but Kino knows it is worth a fortune. Then they get some other pearl buyers to appraise it.
- They think they’re fooling Kino by saying the other guys are strangers (even though they all work together).
- The buyers all say the pearl is worthless, but Kino doesn’t sell it. He tells them that he is going to the capital (big city) to sell it.
- That night everyone is talking about Kino. Juan tells him about the capital and how it is a scary place.
- Then Kino takes a walk. He is attacked by some dude who wants the pearl.
- When Juana finds Kino he is beaten pretty badly. She asks him again to get rid of the pearl but he still says no.
- Then late one night, Juana gets the pearl and decides to throw it in the ocean. She sneaks out of the house and goes to the beach.
- Kino wakes up and runs after her to stop her. Before she can throw it into the water he stops her.
- After he stops her he beats her for trying to get rid of the pearl
- Kino walks home and is attacked again. This time two guys attack him.
- Kino fights them and kills one of the guys. Then he realizes he is a murderer.
- He and Juana plan to get out of the village so he isn’t arrested.
- They starts to pack up some stuff to leave, but they see that their house is on fire, and their canoe is destroyed.
- They plan to hide in Juan’s house and leave the next day. Juan tells him "I told you so" about how the pearl is evil.
- Juan lies and tells all the villagers that Kino already left. Then he brings back some supplies for Kino. Kino and family take off in the middle of the night.
- Juan tells Kino to get rid of the pearl, but Kino says no.
- Kino and family escape to some town called Loreto.
- Kino is paranoid and is ready to fight any attackers, they try hard to cover their tracks on the ground so they can’t be followed.
- They find a hiding place and rest there and eat. Kino and Juana talk about attackers. Then Kino hears the pearl song mixed with the evil song.
- Then Kino goes to sleep. Then he wakes up because he hears something. He sees three men.
- He realizes the three men are hunting him for the pearl.
- The men get close but don’t see Kino. Kino and family decide to go to the mountains.
- The climb the mountain and stop for water. They go high and can see the trackers down below. Juana gets some water and hides in a cave. Kino does some stuff to mislead the trackers (putting footprints in weird places, breaking branches).
- Kino is scared that Coyotito crying will reveal their location. They hide in a cave and watch the trackers stop at the water spring.
- The trackers spend the night there. Kino realizes that he can’t keep Coyotito quiet the whole night so he has to kill the three trackers.
- Kino goes to attack them and right before he jumps out, the baby cries. One of the attackers hears the baby and shoots into the cave.
- Then Kino jumps forth and kicks some tracker ass.
- He stabs one, shoots one and bludgeons the other one with a gun.
- He goes back to the cave and he sees that Coyotito’s head has been blow off.
- Kino and Juana go back to their village.
- They walk down the street and straight to the beach.
- Then Kino takes one last look at the pearl (which caused nothing but trouble) and throws it into the water.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- This is another Steinbeck story, which means the characters are, of course, working, lower class people (like Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath).
- There is a big message in the book about how greed can affect human behavior.
- Before the pearl was found, people in the town were nice. After Kino got the pearl, people became jealous and then there was chaos: jealousy, murder and all kinds of bad stuff happened
- There is a lot of animal symbolism in this book. The animals that Steinbeck writes about could symbolize how animal instinct takes over with greed – the sting of the scorpion starts the whole thing. The scorpion’s poison is like a mental poison that affects Kino and Juana in life. People’s emotions parallel animal emotions: fierce and tough and wanting to just kill.
- The big irony in the story is that it is about a pearl, which is supposed to suggest nice things and serenity. Do you think it is just a coincidence that the pearl is a big, white object?