In what ways does John Steinbeck make the reader aware of the poor and simple life of Kino and Juana?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his parable "The Pearl," John Steinbeck makes his readers aware of the simple impoverished lives of Kino and Juana through his use of setting and the techniques of mood and characterization.

  • Setting

There are chickens and pigs right outside the "brush house" with its "lightening square" which is the doorway. Above him is a hanging box in which his baby sleeps, and beside him on a mat on the dirt floor is his wife, Juana. Their brush house is close to the shore, and Kino and Juana can hear the waves through their doorway. For a stove they have a fire pit; Juana finds a coal that is yet burning, and fans it to awaken the flame. As the fire pit heats, Juana pulls down the baby and cradles him in her shawl in a loop that places him where he can nurse.

Then, when the baby is bitten by a scorpion, Kino wants a doctor, but he must go to the town as no doctor will visit the brush houses. There he knocks on the wall surrounding the doctor of the other race. One of his own race answers and returns to tell Kino that the doctor "never came to the cluster of brush houses." He lies, saying that the doctor has gone out, but Kino knows he has been refused because the pearls that he offers are of too poor a quality.

Kino realizes that the only chance he has of the doctor's examining his baby is if he can pay him enough to satisfy this upper class man.

  • Mood¬†

The tone of oppression is created at times by the various songs that Kino hears. His simple life is also depicted with these songs that are about the basic feelings of one such as Kino. (i.e."Song of the Family"; "Song of the Enemy"--when he is threatened)

  • Characterization

No one that Kino knows is much better off than he, so he can only dive, as he does for a living, and find a beautiful pearl, a pearl that is large and perfect and valuable. So, he works "deliberately" to find such a pearl. When he does, he takes it to the city; however, the dealers who know he is a peasant, tell him it is of no value because it is "too big." For, they hope to cheat him out of this pearl and then sell it for a great profit. While Kino is wise enough to sense that there is something sinister surrounding him, he does not have the resources to adequately deal with the businessmen and under their treachery. 

Kino refuses to give up the pearl, hoping to somehow sell it for what it is worth. Juana perceives the evil that this concern about money is bringing into their family; consequently, she begs Kino to throw back the pearl. But, he refuses and the wealthy, greedy pearl dealers send men to hunt him in order to steal this pearl. This exploitation of Kino and the predatory evil they create destroys the happiness of his family. Tragically, because of this cruelty and avarice on the part of the wealthy men, Kino and Juana lose their baby. Their lives altered irrevocably, Kino throws back the pearl to the ocean.