The Pearl By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 1

Since Steinbeck will use the already established Indian legend of "The Pearl of the World" as a basis for his story, he begins the first chapter with events leading up to the discovery of the great pearl as recorded in Indian folklore. In other words, the main legend begins with the discovery of the pearl and the effects that the discovery has on a young Indian boy. Steinbeck thus begins his novella by introducing us to the type of life that Kino lived before the discovery of the pearl so as to contrast the effects of the discovery on not only himself but also its effects on his entire family.

It is equally important to note that the novel opens at the dawn of a new day — a day that will bring, first, a disaster in the form of the scorpion and then, later in the day, the great discovery of the Pearl of the World. Then, Chapter 6 closes the novel with the end of another day, its focus being three days later with the chastened and saddened Kino and Juana returning to the shores of the Gulf to throw the "evi1" pearl back into the water.

As noted, Steinbeck begins his novel with a simple description of the natural surroundings. It is dawn and the beginning of a new day. Both Kino and his wife arise and go about their usual morning habits. His wife, Juana, prepares the fire, checks on the baby, Coyotito, and makes their meager breakfast while Kino sits and watches the ocean and remembers one of the ancient songs that come from his culture — the Song of the Family. It is a song from the old traditions of his race, and as he remembers the song, he takes pleasure in watching his wife go about her chores. He even watches some ants moving hastily about; in general, "it was a morning like other mornings and yet perfect among mornings."

The perfection of the morning, however, is about to be destroyed. After Kino has eaten the simple breakfast that he eats every morning — a hot corncake dipped in sauce — he suddenly becomes aware that a scorpion is slowly descending into the basket where the baby, Coyotito, is lying. As the scorpion moves down the rope of the hanging crib, Coyotito spots it and is excited by its movement. Juana immediately utters an ancient incantation from far back in her cultural past and also one Hail Mary. Kino inches quietly but steadily towards the scorpion, frightened to move too fast lest he cause the scorpion to sting. Other ancient songs come to his head — the Song of Evil is foremost in his thoughts. Without warning, the baby makes a sudden move, jarring the scorpion, and it falls into the basket and immediately stings Coyotito. In an extreme fit of primitive rage, Kino grabs the scorpion and rubs it "to a paste in his hands." Meanwhile, Juana grabs the baby and sucks as much of the poison out of the wound as is possible.

By this time the entire Indian village is aware of the situation, and everyone is thoroughly taken aback when Juana tells Kino to go for the doctor. Never in the memory of any of the Indians has the doctor ever come to attend any of them. The doctor will not come, and so Juana suddenly decides to take the dying child into town to the doctor. The entire village follows her. Along the way, others from the poorer section follow to see what will happen; even the beggars from in front of the church join in the procession because it is the beggars who best know the doctor. "They knew the doctor. They knew his ignorance, his cruelty, his avarice, his appetites, his sins. They knew his clumsy abortions and the little brown pennies he gave sparingly for alms."

Already in this procession, Steinbeck presents the town divided between two types — the old natives who have been a part of the country for centuries and the new Christian settlers, one of whom Kino and Juana are about to approach. Even as Kino and Juana reach the door of the doctor's house, Kino is filled with rage because he knows that "this doctor was not of his people. This doctor was of a race which for nearly four hundred years had beaten and starved and robbed and despised Kino's race." The doctor's servant will not even speak to Kino in Kino's native language, and he quickly closes the gate before going to inform the doctor of Kino's request for medical aid for Coyotito.

The doctor is a contrast to all the others: he is dressed in opulence and is lying in bed, sipping chocolate and dreaming of a past time when he lived in Paris. Upon hearing about Kino's request, he immediately sends the servant down to see if Kino can pay. Kino gives the servant his entire savings — a few "misshapen seed pearls, as ugly and gray as little ulcers." Quickly, the servant closes the gate, returns almost immediately with Kino's pearls, and tells him that the doctor is out. In angry frustration, Kino strikes his fist against the doctor's closed gates.

Throughout this first chapter, Steinbeck uses several techniques to emphasize the differences between the simple native Indians and the more cultured European types. For example, from the very beginning, there is some type of musical theme or composition running through Kino's mind. When he awakens, there is the Song of the Family. It is a song of security, warmth, and love. The novella opens on this song and it will later be replaced in the last chapters by the Song of Evil. The introduction of this basic song motif emphasizes the primitive reactions of these characters to life and to their surroundings. When these songs occur to a character, they will reflect part of that character's thoughts and feelings. When Kino hears Juana sing her morning song, he feels the warmth of her love and security: "Sometimes it rose to an aching chord that caught the throat, saying this is safety, this is warmth, this is the whole."

The Song of the Family is interrupted by the appearance of the deadly and dangerous scorpion, and then we hear the Song of Evil. The appearance of the scorpion threatens the security and safety of the family as a unit, and thus the Song of Evil prepares us for all the other evil that appears to destroy the family. The scorpion with its poisonous sting is a foreshadowing of the human evil which will attack the family later.

There are several techniques of a basic nature used to suggest the fundamental quality of the family. In the beginning, Kino awakens in darkness, and the light gradually appears. Thus, the novella will move in terms of various shades of light and dark. Steinbeck intentionally chooses the most basic symbol because he is dealing with the most basic and primitive emotions. Note that now there are various mentions of light inside the house and the suggestions of the darkness outside which reemphasize the Song of the Family. Gradually, then, the darkness on the outside diminishes as Kino prepares to enter the world to undertake the support of his family.

The mixture of the old and the new is seen by the fact that Juana prays for her stricken child by uttering an incantation of ancient magic and then she says a Hail Mary. Consequently, the new has not completely eradicated the old.

Steinbeck provides descriptions of the village and of the town, both inside and outside the dwellings. These descriptions reiterate the contrast between the old and the new worlds, and they suggest that these two worlds can never blend into one unified group. Thus, later the natives are suspicious of the pearl buyers because the buyers represent the new world and are not to be trusted. Physically, this contrast is illustrated by the dividing line between the city and the brush town. When Juana is taking her child to the doctor, they come to a distinct place which is a dividing line: the city becomes a massive block of cold stone and plaster, as opposed to the more flexible brush and dirt houses of the natives. As an example of the city's buildings, Kino's hut is compared to the doctor's house. The doctor's house and all of the other houses are isolated by huge stone fences and an iron gate, and the natives can hear "caged birds" singing somewhere inside. Thus, the physical structure blocks the natives from any direct communication with the town people; the town dwellers seem themselves like caged birds, in contrast to the natives who live so close to nature.

Steinbeck's social comment is seen in the confrontation between the two races. Immediately, Kino thinks of the doctor as an enemy. The doctor is a member of the race who "for nearly four hundred years had beaten and starved and robbed and despised Kino's race, and frightened it . . . so that when Kino reaches the doctor's house, the "music of the enemy beat in his ears." But in spite of the hatred Kino feels, he still takes off his hat out of forced subservience.

Whereas Kino and his race represent the natural, the descriptions of the doctor suggest that he represents everything that is not natural. All of the natural world has been bred out of him, and he is totally separated from all natural emotions. Therefore, since Kino cannot pay for his child's treatment, the doctor feels no touch of humanity toward the poverty-stricken young family. With his red silk dressing gown and his silver cups and his delicate eggshell china, he is completely opposite to the strong and masculine Kino.

Kino's hand, injured when he smashed it against the gate of the doctor's house, will bother him throughout the novella, and it will serve as a constant reminder of the falseness of the civilized world.

Steinbeck uses the other members of the community in much the way that the Chorus is used in Greek drama. Classical Greek tragedies included a group of actors called the Chorus, whose functions, among others, included informing the audience of the climate of opinion that prevailed among the common people, making philosophic and general comments on the main action of the play as it unfolded and predicting doom or catastrophe for the protagonists. Kino's neighbors serve a similar function throughout the novella.

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Before they open the large oyster that will yield the great pearl, Kino and Juana




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