Chapter 1 Summary
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 691
The Pearl opens with a short preface—a single paragraph of text stating that the tale of Kino, his wife, and their infant son, Coyotito, has become legendary in their town. Moreover, the narrator says, the story has come to be viewed in extremes: some recall the family’s experience in only the best terms, while others only recall the worst of it.
Chapter 1 begins as Kino awakens before dawn to the sound of animals outside the small dwelling. He takes notice of the sunrise and then looks on his small family—his son who sleeps in a small box hanging in the home and his wife, Juana, who is already awake and looking at him lovingly. In this state of contentment, Kino closes his eyes and reflects on the blessing of his family. For the moment, he is in a state of absolute contentment.
As Juana builds a fire in the little house made of brush, Kino steps outside and observes his surroundings. He appreciatively observes the sunrise and a progression of ants. His wife’s silent yet steady preparation for the day reinforces his sense of security. The love he feels for his small family almost overwhelms him.
When Juana finishes preparing the meal, Kino goes inside to eat his simple breakfast, which he consumes with satisfaction. Once he has finished, Juana approaches to begin her meal. To his horror, Kino notices a scorpion crawling down a rope into the box that holds his son, Coyotito. As Kino delicately approaches the box, Juana whispers superstitious prayers for the safety of their child. Although Kino is extremely cautious in his movements, little Coyotito utters a childish laugh and inadvertently shakes the scorpion into the box. Kino lunges to catch it, but it falls onto the infant’s shoulder and stings him. The baby screams out in pain as his father angrily and viciously kills the scorpion.
The child’s screams alert the neighbors, and they crowd into the little house. Juan Tomas, Kino’s brother, is among them as the news spreads of the scorpion sting. The local residents are all aware of the danger to the young child’s life. Juana decidedly asks for someone to summon the local doctor. This small cluster of residents knows that the doctor will not come. He will not bother to help an impoverished family. Acknowledging the difficulty in convincing the doctor to come to her home, Juana decides that she will take her child to the doctor. Therefore, she and Kino, followed by a horde of neighbors, make the trek into town to see the doctor. The townspeople become spectators, awaiting the doctor’s decision regarding this poor couple and their injured child.
Kino approaches the doctor’s home with reluctance and trepidation. He realizes that the doctor belongs to a race of people who feel prejudiced against him. He contemplates the difficulty of placating a man who despises his entire race, and he prepares himself to be submissive as he knocks at the gate of the house.
As expected, the doctor refuses to see the infant. Clothed in silk and surrounded by relative luxury, the doctor insultingly suggests that his profession is not “veterinary.” He asks his servant if Kino is capable of paying for the treatment. The servant returns to the gate and asks Kino if he can afford the doctor’s services. Kino offers the only payment he has—a few small and weathered pearls. The servant takes them into the doctor and quickly returns to the gate. The doctor has lyingly excused himself on the pretext of having been called urgently away on a “serious” case. The servant hurriedly gives the pearls back to Kino and returns to the house.
The crowd feels sympathy for Kino and Juana, particularly because they have just been publicly embarrassed. Everyone realizes that the doctor has refused them because they cannot afford to pay him for his services. Consequently, they disperse, leaving the small family standing helplessly before the gate of the doctor’s house. In his burning anger and frustration, Kino strikes the gate so forcefully that he cuts his hand.