What is the role of music in Steinbeck's novel The Pearl?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kino imagines the songs of his people in his head.  They are not real songs, but they are the soundtrack that make up the mood of what is happening to him.  He explains that his people used to sing a lot of songs. 

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. … 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. (Ch. 1) 

Kino’s songs fit what is happening to him.  The Song of the Family is the domestic ritual.  He is feeling calm.  Every morning his wife Juana makes breakfast and takes care of their little boy Coyotito, and Kino feels happy.  He hears the “rhythm of the family song” in their everyday activity.

Other songs are not nearly as pleasant.  There is the Song of Evil, which Kino hears when the scorpion threatens his son.

And then the startled look was gone from him and the rigidity from his body. In his mind a new song had come, the Song of Evil, the music of the enemy, of any foe of the family, a savage, secret, dangerous melody, and underneath, the Song of the Family cried plaintively. (Ch. 1) 

The Song of Evil and the Song of the Enemy are based on Kino’s need to protect his family.  He hears the Song of the Enemy when he is feeling angry and helpless, and he smashes the scorpion to bits.  Juana is the one who saved the baby, however. 

Kino says that their people “had sung of everything that happened or existed.”  This is why he hears the Song of the Pearl while looking for a pearl.  The pearls he is looking for are his way of feeding his family.  The one he finds is very large, and he is thrilled.  

Read the study guide:
The Pearl

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