The Pearl Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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What do the Song of the Pearl and the Song of the Enemy mean to Kino in John Steinbeck's The Pearl?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Kino has what we might call an "ancient soul." He is connected in some mysterious way to the distant generations of his people when they were song makers.

His people had once been great makers of songs so that everything they saw or thought or did or heard became a song. That was very long ago.

Steinbeck is ambiguous in his description of how the other people of his village relate to these songs. When speaking about Kino "listening to his music," Steinbeck says both "Perhaps he alone did this and perhaps all of his people did it," and "The songs remained; Kino knew them." So it's difficult to know if Kino's mysterious connection ("perhaps he alone did it") is unique to Kino's ancient soul and if the Song of the Pearl and the Song of the Enemy mean to Kino what they mean to others in his village.

When considering what the Song of the Enemy, one of the earliest songs we encounter, means to Kino, it is important to notice a subtle comment made by the narrator. When talking about the songs and saying "Kino knew them," the narrator also says, "no new songs were added." When Kino confronts the scorpion, seeing it above his baby's hanging cradle, the narrator says, "In his mind a new song had come, the Song of Evil, the music of the enemy ...."

In another aspect of ambiguity, when Kino hears the Song of the Enemy after his baby is stung, we are not explicitly told whether that too is a new song. Since "the music of the enemy" is so closely tied to the "new song" of the Song of Evil, it can be inferred that the Song of the Enemy was equivalent to "the music of the enemy" and that the Song of the Enemy was a second new song.

If this inference is upheld, then the meaning of this song to Kino is multidimensional. He has broken through the recent ancestral silence and erupted in a new song, indeed, two new songs, bringing the old ancestral song making back into current life. If this is correct, then the tragedies that Kino experiences and loss of focus his life undergoes might be seen as having been precipitated by breaking the silence surrounding the creation of new songs. It was a song not known by the people; it was a song he alone knew, but it was bigger than a personal song. It may have been a song that interrupted the fabric of life, just as the pearl later breaks the fabric of life again.

So to Kino, the Song of the Enemy means broken cords (or chords) of life. The cords or chords of life tying him to his people are broken. The cords/chords tying him to his son are broken. The fragile cords/chords tying Coyotito to his family, his people, and his own life are broken. The Song of the Enemy...

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iamkaori | Student

The songs bring Kino a sense of familiarity and serve as a reminder of his old culture. The songs are also important for they foreshadow what is about to happen in the story. The songs also contain indescribable emotions in them that causes Kino to be startled by them.  

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