The Pearl By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 4

It was noted that the town was very much like a type of organism in the last chapter. Here again, Steinbeck begins this chapter by comparing the town to a larger unit, or organism, in which no single action is separate from any other. Only when one person deviates from the general pattern of the rest of the unit is there a significant change. In this chapter, Kino will step out of the known and trusted pattern of behavior; he will no longer be a part of the larger organism; as such, he will be more vulnerable to the enemy since he does not have the collective protection of the entire organism. Significantly, the entire town knows that Kino is going to sell his pearl today.

This "organism" image is carried through and expanded to include the pearl buyers. There were once many pearl buyers bidding against one another, but now there "was only one pearl buyer with many hands," and the pearl buyers sitting and waiting for Kino already knew what each would offer for the Pearl of the World.

On the morning that Kino is to sell the pearl, the other divers do not go out to dive; this is to be a special day in the life of the town. Kino and Juana dress themselves and Coyotito in their best clothes and begin the trip to the pearl buyers, followed by all of the rest of the village. Here, we have the second of several processional scenes. Yesterday, they walked in the same procession to see the doctor, and they were defeated and turned away. Today, they go in a triumphant mood, fully aware of the treasure they have that will bring them wealth and respect.

In the processional, Juan Tomás walks beside Kino and reminds Kino of the old story of how years ago the "old ones" thought of a way to outwit the pearl buyers by sending one of their own to the large town to sell their collected pearls. The first man failed to return; they sent another with their collected pearls and he too failed to return. They then abandoned the idea and returned to selling their pearls to the pearl buyers. Kino, of course, has heard the story already; the priest, the Father, tells it every year. According to the priest, the failure was "a punishment on those who tried to leave their station." The priest made it clear that God intends the peons to remain in their stations in life, and if someone tries to rise above their station, it is an invitation for disaster. This view of the priest, of course, shows him to be simply a tool of the wealthy pearl buyers; he is not concerned at all with the social welfare of his parishioners.

The news of Kino's impending arrival in town has already reached the pearl buyers, along with reports on the loveliness of the pearl. One of the pearl buyers, a fatherly, jovial man, sits in his office playing a disappearing trick with coins while he waits for Kino. The mere fact that this pearl buyer is playing a game in which a coin disappears, a game used at cheap carnivals to cheat innocent bystanders, sets the tone for the entire pearl-buying operation.

When Kino arrives with the pearl, his neighbors wait just within hearing distance, outside the office. The pearl buyer looks casually at the pearl and shows no expression on his face, yet his hands, hidden behind him, are trembling. Then the buyer offers a very small sum, a thousand pesos, for the Pearl of the World. He maintains that the pearl is too big — the pearl is a curiosity that no one will buy. Kino knows that he is being cheated; meanwhile, the pearl buyer sends for the other buyers to confirm his offer. While they are waiting for the other buyers, the neighbors discuss the offer. They are puzzled; in contrast, the pearl buyer cannot keep his eyes off the pearl.

When the other three pearl buyers arrive, they carry through with their pre-arranged, assigned roles. One will make no offer at all; the pearl is a monstrosity. The second buyer maintains that the pearl will "die" in a few months. The third buyer offers five hundred pesos. The pearl buyers, however, have misjudged their client: Kino announces that he will go to the capital and sell the pearl. Quickly, the main pearl buyer raises his offer to fifteen hundred pesos, but it is too late; Kino leaves.

Back in their brush houses, the neighbors discuss the events. They are divided in their opinions: some feel that Kino is being cheated; some feel that he is going against the system, and some think that he is foolish because fifteen hundred pesos is more money than he has ever had. Kino, however, feels alienated from everything: according to Steinbeck, Kino "has lost one world and had not gained another."

That night after Kino and Juana are in bed, Kino hears some noises outside. He takes his knife and goes to investigate. Inside, Juana hears the noises of a violent struggle, and she takes a stone and goes to Kino's aid, but it is too late. Kino is lying on the ground, bloody, with most of his clothes half-torn off him. His assailants have escaped, and Kino cannot identify them. Again, Juana pleads with Kino to destroy the pearl — it is wicked. But Kino still sees the pearl as the only means of insuring Coyotito's education, and so he resolves to go to the capital to sell the pearl.

As a parallel to the last chapter, Kino has had the pearl with him for two nights, and he has been severely beaten on both nights. In both cases, the assailants are some unknown forces of evil from the darkness. It would be too simplistic to say that the assailants in Chapter 3 came from the doctor, and that these came from the pearl buyers. Steinbeck wants us to see these as simply forces which are destined to try and destroy Kino. In the same way, the trackers who follow Kino in the next chapter will never be identified; they will remain merely abstract forces of destruction and evil.

This chapter is one of Steinbeck's most direct criticisms of the unjustice of the social system of Kino's village. As noted previously, the priest joins with the existing powers to emphasize the manner in which the Indians must yield to the authority of the pearl buyers because, according to him, it is "God's will" that they must stay in their divinely appointed station in life. Kino, according to this theory, is defying God and the system by trying to rise above his "assigned" place in life. Likewise, the pearl buyers have organized to get the pearls from the Indian divers at the lowest price. The Indian men know this, but they can do nothing about it: in "four hundred years Kino's people had learned only one defense — a slight slitting of the eyes and a slight tightening of the lips and a retirement. Nothing could break down this wall. . . . "

The town as an organism or unit is presented again when the entire town deserts its usual occupation; the beach, which is usually teeming with activity, is isolated. Now, there is a procession straggling into the town. As noted above, the first procession occurred when Juana and Kino went as suppliants to the doctor in town, accompanied by their sympathetic neighbors; this action ended with Kino's frustration and a bleeding fist. This procession now is of a different spirit. Today, Kino has something which the town wants, and the people who accompany Kino are no longer so friendly. Thus, we should be prepared for another procession, a third procession, when Kino will return from the mountains as a defeated man.

After Kino refuses to sell the pearl, his brother tells him: "You have defied not the pearl buyers, but the whole structure, the whole way of life, and I am afraid for you." This idea should be correlated with the sermon preached every year by the priest when he advises each man to "remain faithful to his post and . . . not go running about, else the castle is in danger from the assaults of Hell." The priest is not truly concerned with the social situation; rather, he is attempting to keep the natives in line. Kino's brother, Juan, fears for Kino because Kino believes that he is a man with the right to revolt against dishonesty to prove his dignity as a man.

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




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