The Pearl


John Steinbeck

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The Pearl takes place in a small village on the outskirts of La Paz, California. It begins in the brush house of Kino, Juana, and their baby, Coyotito, a family of Mexican Native Americans. In the midst of Kino and Juana’s morning routine, Coyotito is stung by a scorpion that has fallen into his hanging box.

Aware of how poisonous the scorpion’s sting is, Juana orders that the doctor be gotten and when the doctor refuses to come to them, insists they go to the doctor themselves. Kino, Juana, Coyotito, and their neighbors proceed together to the city. When the servant reports their arrival at his gate, the doctor, lounging indulgently in bed, is insulted by the mere notion that he would “cure insect bites for ‘little Indians’” without compensation. The servant informs Kino that the doctor will not be able to see them and Kino punches the gate, infuriated by the doctor’s evident discrimination.

Kino and Juana set off in their canoe to search for pearls. Kino dives down to the seafloor and finds one oyster lying alone, gleaming from within. Upon returning to the canoe, Kino opens this oyster last and finds within it the most perfect pearl in the world.

News of Kino’s pearl spreads rapidly through the town, inspiring desire and envy in everyone who hears of it. When Juan Tomas asks Kino what he will do as a rich man, he responds that he and Juana will be married in a church, that they will have new clothes, that he will have a rifle, and that his son will receive an education.

The priest visits the brush house to remind Kino and Juana to thank God. Then the doctor, inspired by the news of the pearl, arrives in order to treat the baby. He administers a first treatment and predicts that the poison will strike within the hour. Within the hour, Coyotito indeed becomes ill and the doctor administers a second treatment to cure him. Kino promises to pay the doctor after selling the pearl, which the doctor feigns not to have heard about.

That night, after dark, Kino hears noises in the house and manages to strike a thief looking for the pearl with his knife, but is also struck in return. Juana begs, to no avail, that they get rid of the pearl.

The next day, Kino and Juana, followed by their neighbors, go to visit the pearl dealers. The first dealer Kino visits assesses the pearl at a mere 1000 pesos, declaring it too big and clumsy to be worth anything more, though it is clearly more valuable than he lets on. Kino accuses the dealer of cheating him, so the dealer instructs Kino to ask around for other appraisals, which are even worse than the first. Kino concludes that he’s been cheated and decides to go to the capital for a better estimate.

That night, Kino fights off another attacker. Juana tries to throw the pearl into the ocean, but Kino follows her, rips the pearl away from her, and beats her to the ground. Some minutes later, Juana rises to discover that Kino has been attacked yet again, and, this time, has killed his attacker. Now that Kino is guilty of murder, Kino and Juana truly must leave the town.

As Kino approaches the canoe to prepare for their departure, he sees that someone has made a hole in its bottom. Then, upon seeing that their house is engulfed in flames, the family seeks refuge in Juan Tomas’s house. They flee north at nighttime, pursued by trackers who have followed them from the village.

The family retreats into a cave on a mountainside, under which the trackers come to rest at night. When it’s completely dark, Kino prepares to attack them but, as he is about to, Coyotito lets out a cry, provoking one of the trackers to shoot at what he assumes to be a coyote. Though Kino succeeds in killing the men, Coyotito has already been shot dead.

Juana and Kino, united and beleaguered, walk back to the village side-by-side with Coyotito’s dead body in Juana’s shawl. Kino throws the pearl back into the sea.