Student Question

Why are the canoe, scorpion, and pearl significant in The Pearl by John Steinbeck?

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The scorpion’s significance is clear, because it sets the story moving.  The baby is threatened, and the family wants money to go to a doctor.  Soon after, Kino finds a pearl.  However, the scorpion also symbolizes evil.  It represents all of the threats to the family that lurk for Kino.  Consider Kino’s reaction to the sting.

He threw it down and beat it into the earth floor with his fist, and Coyotito screamed with pain in his box. But Kino beat and stamped the enemy until it was only a fragment and a moist place in the dirt. His teeth were bared and fury flared in his eyes and the Song of the Enemy roared in his ears. (Ch. 1) 

While Juana has the presence of mind to treat the scorpion’s sing with home remedies, Kino keeps beating the scorpion into the dust even after it is dead and no longer poses a threat.  It represents all of his fears, and demonstrates how little control he has over his temper. 

The canoe is a significant symbol because it is Kino’s heritage and also his livelihood.  He makes a living looking for pearls.  The canoe was passed down through the generations.  It means a lot to Kino.

Kino and Juana came slowly down to the beach and to Kino's canoe, which was the one thing of value he owned in the world. It was very old. Kino's grandfather had brought it from Nayarit, and he had given it to Kino's father, and so it had come to Kino. (Ch. 2)

The canoe’s value is not in its monetary worth, but in that it is a family heirloom.  It means home and honor to Kino.  The canoe is part of tradition.

The pearl is so much more than just a pearl.  It is the Pearl of the World.  It represents all of Kino’s aspirations.  He sees the pearl as the key to everything he always wanted, and most of the village dreams vicariously through him.

In the pearl he saw Coyotito sitting at a little desk in a school, just as Kino had once seen it through an open door. And Coyotito was dressed in a jacket, and he had on a white collar, and a broad silken tie. Moreover, Coyotito was writing on a big piece of paper. (Ch. 3) 

Through the pearl, Kino imagines for Coyotito a life of opportunity.  He can be educated and have the life that Kino and Juana never had, which is also a life that Kino cannot give him without the pearl.  All of his aspirations are tied up in that pearl.

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