According to Steinbeck's description, the sea is the source of life. It is "rich with crawling and swimming and growing things". The people on the land depend on the sea for their survival; if a man has a boat with which to navigate the sea, he can "guarantee a woman that she will eat something. For those on the land, a boat provides access to the sea, and acts as "a bulwark against starvation". Steinbeck indicates that life on the land is old, having gone back "for generations", but the sea, the natural world, is older still. The sea exists in harmony with nature, and has the potential to support those who live on the land, but those on the land upset the natural balance.
The people on the land know that they depend on the sea. They make songs "to the fishes, to the sea in anger and to the sea in calm...the beat of the song (is their) pounding heart as it (eats) the oxygen from (their) held breath, and the melody of the song (is) the gray-green water and the little scuttling animals and the clouds of fish that (flit) by and (are) gone". Yet the people do not understand clearly their relationship to the sea. The sea willingly provides all they need, yet they want more, their desires colored by greed. Thus, the poultice Juana makes for the wound on Coyotito's shoulder actually cures him, making "the swelling...(go) out of the baby's shoulder, the poison...(recede) from his body". The baby, having been cured by the poultice of seaweed, the gift of the sea, does not need the doctor, but Juana does not fully appreciate the power of the sea, and hopes for a pearl so that they can pay the doctor to treat him. To satisfy their misguided understanding of what is best for their child and for their family, Kino violently cuts into the flesh of the oyster, making its "lip-like flesh...(writhe) and...subside)", and takes the pearl, in his ignorance and greed destroying the natural order between the land and the sea (Chapter 2).