What is the meaning of the songs in The Pearl?  

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The songs in this book are important because they add historical and cultural depth to both the setting and the characters. We are told that no new songs are being created, but the old songs remained important.

The songs remained; Kino knew them, but no new songs were added. That does not mean that there were no personal songs. In Kino's head there was a song now, clear and soft, and if he had been able to speak of it, he would have called it the Song of the Family.

The songs themselves serve as a way to more deeply build Kino as a character and his family, and the Song of the Family remains important through various parts of the story. The song serves as a way to remind readers of the thematic importance of family, as well as being important to the family itself. For example, we are told early in the story that a simple three note song was capable of endless variety and therefore was able to endlessly function as a binding tie to the family.

Kino could see these things without looking at them. Juana sang softly an ancient song that had only three notes and yet endless variety of interval. And this was part of the family song too. It was all part. Sometimes it rose to an aching chord that caught the throat, saying this is safety, this is warmth, this is the Whole.

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There are several songs in The Pearl. Steinbeck envisioned this book becoming a movie, so you can think of these songs as background music creating mood:

The Song of the Family: this accompanies gentle, peaceful domestic scenes, often outside by the waves, as the family goes about its cycle of work. It is a calming song.

The Song of Evil: this song occurs at moments of danger, such as when the family sees the scorpion threatening their baby. It is a "savage" melody.

The Song of the Enemy: this is very similar to the Song of Evil: it comes into Kino's head as he has to fight the scorpion.

The Song of the Undersea: this is the song of all of Kino's people and is about everything that has ever happened. It is sung to the fishes, the sun, the moon, and the sea.

The Song of the Pearl that Might Be: this is the song of hoping to find a pearl. Finding a pearl is a dream, so this a song of the unlikely, but it is still a potent song.

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Throughout the novella, Kino hears certain songs that identify and reflect his surrounding atmosphere. Steinbeck writes that the Mexican people had once been "great makers of songs" and that any activity the native people participated in became a song. The songs that Kino hears on a continual basis represent his Mexican culture and give him insight into the nature of his surroundings. At the beginning of the novella, Kino hears the peaceful Song of the Family as Juana rises and begins to make breakfast while he stares into the beautiful ocean at sunrise. After discovering the Pearl of the World, Kino begins to hear the Song of Evil as his selfish enemies begin to plot against him. In addition to the Song of the Family and the Song of Evil, Kino also hears songs associated with the pearl, the sea, and his enemies. These songs also foreshadow events and create an atmosphere around certain scenes in the novella. Interestingly, Steinbeck initially conceived The Pearl as a film, and the audience would have heard Kino's songs in the background of the scenes.

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The Songs in The Pearl are all part of the Song of Life. They are a reflection of the native beliefs that the people of Mexico once had before the coming of the Europeans. They are for all aspects of life: The Family, Evil, the Enemy, What Might Be, the Undersea. All these are parts of Kino’s life. Thus Kino refers to the song as “the Whole,” meaning all of life. He and Juana sing these songs when an occasion arises that needs an expression of emotion. In the good times and the bad times, either Kino or Juana breaks into song. When Coyotito is stung by the scorpion, Juana sings the song of the family, to protect her child against evil. Kino sings when the priest comes and wants to be part of the pearl and its wealth. After Kino throws the pearl into the sea, it is stated that the music of the pearl softens into a whisper and then disappears.

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