Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This long story (or short novel) follows five momentous days in the life of an Indian pearl diver living in La Paz, a small port on the Gulf of California. Though told by an omniscient author, the work most often limits itself to Kino’s perspective as he suffers the gratuitous trials of an innocent tragic hero.
His sufferings begin when he witnesses a scorpion sting his beloved son, Coyotito, as the child lies happily in his cradle. Beside herself with terror, Kino’s common-law wife, Juana, insists that they take Coyotito to the doctor because that individual has authority even though he “was of a race which for nearly four hundred years had beaten and starved and robbed and despised Kino’s race.” The doctor irresponsibly evades seeing the child, and Kino takes his first step in his tragic growth by challenging the unfair order of existence. He strikes the doctor’s gate “a crushing blow with his fist.” His knuckles give instead of the doorway, but Kino’s gesture shows that he is prepared to become “a man.”
That same day, he and Juana go to dive for pearls. Juana tries to bargain with her people’s ancient gods and offers a prayer to the Christian God that they might find a pearl. Though she has made a better poultice of seaweed than the doctor could, she still feels the need for his magic and wants the wherewithal to force him to attend her baby. As if in answer to her supplication, Kino finds “the greatest pearl in the world.” He begins to dream about the good the pearl will bring his family. He imagines being married now that they can pay for the service. He pictures a new harpoon and then dares imagine possessing a rifle. That last image is so defiant that he goes even further: He dreams of sending his son to school to learn to read, write, and “make numbers.”
The people of La Paz have heard the news, however, and they intrude on Kino’s dream. Even the priest comes to express his hope that Kino will not forget the Church. The doctor rushes over to force a powder down Coyotito’s throat,...
(The entire section is 842 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Pearl, which its author calls a parable, was first published as “The Pearl of the World” in Woman’s Home Companion in 1945. It was published as a novel and released as a film under the title The Pearl in 1947. In parables, characters exist outside and beyond their individual identities and are shaped to represent universal types.
Steinbeck’s story came from a folk story he had heard and which he related in The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951). The story, purported to be true, was of a simple Mexican peasant boy who had found a pearl near La Paz at the tip of Baja California. The pearl was so large that the boy was convinced he would never have to work again, that he could stay drunk forever, and that he could have his pick of women and then buy his eternal salvation after all his sinning by purchasing Masses. His dream turned sour when opportunists and thieves beset him, some of whom threatened his life. So frightened and disenchanted was this Indian boy that he eventually threw his great pearl back into the sea whence it came.
Steinbeck creates as his Indian peasant Kino, an unwed father whose chief concerns are to marry Juana, the mother of his child, Coyotito, in a church wedding and to provide for his family and for Coyotito’s education. In short, Kino aspires to middle-class values to which the first readers of the story in Woman’s Home Companion could easily relate.
(The entire section is 517 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
The Pearl opens with a short preface—a single paragraph of text stating that the tale of Kino, his wife, and their infant son, Coyotito, has become legendary in their town. Moreover, the narrator says, the story has come to be viewed in extremes: some recall the family’s experience in only the best terms, while others only recall the worst of it.
Chapter 1 begins as Kino awakens before dawn to the sound of animals outside the small dwelling. He takes notice of the sunrise and then looks on his small family—his son who sleeps in a small box hanging in the home and his wife, Juana, who is already awake and looking at him lovingly. In this state of contentment, Kino closes his eyes and reflects on the...
(The entire section is 691 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Chapter 2 opens with a view of the lovely ocean shore that borders the small brush home of Kino and Juana. The shore is teeming with a variety of animal life and vegetation. The couple approaches the beach and Kino studies his canoe, hand-crafted and maintained using a technique that his father taught him years ago. Kino’s ownership of this canoe is of vital importance because it provides him with the means of providing food for his family. As he prepares the canoe for its entrance into the water, Juana gathers seaweed and places it on Coyotito’s shoulder. The seaweed application is intended to ease the pain of the scorpion bite. Since the initial sting, the baby’s neck, ears, and face have become red and swollen, indicating...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Even before Kino and Juana reach the shore, the tidings of their discovery have spread throughout the village and surrounding town. The news is broadcast to everyone, including the priest, the beggars, and the doctor who refused to treat Coyotito’s injury. They all imagine the benefits that the pearl will bring to them. The priest imagines that he might be able to make repairs to the church. The beggars speculate that they could receive special contributions from a man who, until very recently, lived in poverty. Even the doctor boasts that the infant is his patient.
Perhaps the most eager sharers in Kino’s news are town’s pearl buyers. They anticipated Kino’s desire to sell the pearl and await the opportunity to...
(The entire section is 683 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The village town of La Paz is teeming with quiet excitement and anxious curiosity. The inhabitants are eager to see how Kino and Juana fare after the sale of their pearl. No one leaves for work. The pearl divers do not head to the shore to seek the day’s fortune. Instead, they all stay to be present for this event. They plan to follow the couple so they can witness firsthand the outcome of Kino’s great day.
The pearl buyers greet the day with anticipation. Each hopes to have the opportunity to buy the pearl. Of course, each calculates the best means of swindling Kino. They are all employed by one powerful, unscrupulous, and closefisted buyer. Consequently, these smaller buyers understand that Kino must not be...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Juana and Kino disagree strongly about how to dispose of the pearl, and they begin the day with a horrifying interaction. Kino awakens to see Juana discreetly arise and move toward the fireplace. He silently watches as she removes the pearl from the hiding place and leaves the house. He follows her. At first, she doesn’t know that she is being observed. When she realizes she is being followed, she runs toward the ocean. Kino chases her. Just as she is about to throw the pearl into the ocean, Kino strikes her in the face. He forcibly takes the pearl from her and kicks her. He is furious but Juana is unafraid. Her determined expression calms him and he feels ashamed of himself for having abused her.
In shame, Kino turns...
(The entire section is 710 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Kino and Juana escape the town in the dark. A swift breeze stirs the sand in such a manner that their footprints are erased as they travel. To avoid being seen, they walk along the outskirts of the town instead of through the center of it. Once they leave town, the wind subsides and they realize that, on the next day, their footprints will be evident in the sand. Still, they walk all night and only turn off of the major roadway at daybreak. Kino finds a suitable place for Juana and Coyotito to rest. Then he returns to the main road and uses a piece of brush to sweep away the footprints that indicate their direction of travel.
Kino and Juana prepare for a short rest. Kino thinks he hears unsettling noises. He tells Juana...
(The entire section is 563 words.)