What is the "Song of Evil" and what is happening the first time Kino hears it?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck's The Pearl is written as a parable, a simple story meant to develop a moral lesson. In developing this parable, Steinbeck employs music as a motif and as an instrument for foreshadowing.

When Kino first hears the Song of Evil, he immediately reacts to the "evil music of...any foe of the family." The foe is a scorpion. Kino goes into motion, holding his hands palm down in front of him. As he moves stealthily, he keeps his eyes constantly on the creature that threatens harm to his baby, hoping to catch it. He stands motionless waiting for the scorpion; the scorpion stops, sensing danger, and Kino hears "the music of the enemy." Kino again moves his hand forward with a smooth motion. But at this moment, the baby shakes the rope that the scorpion is moving down, causing the scorpion to fall onto the baby's shoulder, where it strikes with his tail. Swiftly, Kino snatches the scorpion, and he kills it.

As Kino beats and stamps "the enemy," the baby's mother puts her lips on the puncture, sucking out the poison. Afterwards, she tells Kino to get a doctor. But Kino tells her that a doctor will not come. Nevertheless, Juana is adamant that her baby be seen by a doctor: "Then we will go to him," she says.

The Song of Evil has alerted Kino to danger and he has reacted; in addition, it foreshadows new dangers to come as the family seeks a doctor, a man of "...a race which for nearly four hundred years had beaten and starved and robbed and despised Kino's and Juana's race."

Thus, throughout the narrative of Steinbeck's novel, the song of Evil emerges, foreshadowing danger and spurring Kino into action. 

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Song of Evil is of course metaphorical:  it represents everything which threatens the safety, unity and well-being of Kino's family. The first time it is "heard" is when the scorpion crawls down the rope of the baby's suspended cradle and stings him on the hand. It comes back intermittantly throughout the story, representing the greed of the villagers and pearl buyers, the rising conflict between Kino and Juana, and the dangers facing the family as they flee their home. It crescendoes to the moment when Coyotito is killed by a stray bullet from the trackers which richochets off the stone cliff where they are hiding. The Song of Evil is only silenced when Kino throws the pearl back into the sea, where it can no longer entice and subvert the hearts of men.

The Song of Evil represents also an internal struggle as Kino must wrestle with the choice to either keep the pearl and trust his luck at selling in in La Paz or to get rid of it for the safety of his family. Here it is described as a heartbeat or throb rising within his breast, spreading over him much as the scorpion's venom which poisoned his son Coyotito. Steinbeck interweaves perceptive imagery (sight, sound, touch) in a very compelling way to portray the hypnotic power the pearl holds over the village and Kino's own soul.