The Pearl By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

This brief chapter piles one evil thing on top of another evil thing, and finally Kino is reduced to desperation. Significantly, everything evil that happens to him is directly related to the Pearl of the World, and Juana knows this. At the beginning of the chapter, she silently rises from her sleep, goes quietly to the fireplace stone and removes the great pearl. Then, like a shadow, she disappears through the doorway. A rage surges in Kino, and he catches up with her at the beach just at the moment that her hand is raised to throw the pearl back into the Gulf. Kino strikes her; "his teeth [are] bared. He [hisses] at her like a snake." Already, there is a major change occurring within Kino; he is becoming more and more like an animal — even in his treatment of Juana who, because of her upbringing, accepts such treatment. She knows that there is murder in the heart of her husband, and she accepts it without understanding it. In the same way, she knows that she needs a man; she does not know why, but she knows that Kino is a man, and she cannot live without a man.

For the third time, Kino is attacked by some dark, unknown figures. This time the pearl is knocked from his hand, but this time, Kino is able to shove his knife into one of the assailants before the others knock him unconscious. He remembers hands and fingers, however, searching his body before he loses total consciousness.

When Juana recovers from the blows that Kino gave her, she follows her husband and finds him lying unconscious on the path, with a dead stranger close beside him. Juana now realizes that something of the old peace, the peace that existed before the time of the pearl, is gone forever. It is ironic that only a day before, they thought that all future times would be counted in terms of all the happiness they would have as a result of Kino's finding the pearl. "They knew that time would now date from Kino's pearl, and that they would discuss this moment for many years to come." In contrast, the future is now to be counted in terms of sadness and misfortune from the day of the discovery of the pearl.

Even though Juana had earlier tried to throw the pearl back into the Gulf, now when Kino recovers and thinks that he has lost the pearl, Juana, who found it behind a rock, returns it to him, telling him that they must leave their village and go away because of the dead stranger. Kino sends Juana after their meager supplies while he goes to make the boat ready for the journey, but he discovers that someone has smashed a large hole in the bottom of the boat. Kino's reactions are important here; they represent the primitive values of his culture. He feels that the killing of a family boat ("the canoe of his grandfather") is a greater crime than the killing of a person because a person has a family that can revenge him. Following through with this logic, Kino knows that he himself could never, even for a moment, think of taking someone else's boat for his escape, even though there are other boats for the taking.

Suddenly, as Kino and Juana return to their hut, they see that their brush house is in flames. This is their third encounter with evil forces within a short time. When Kino asks Juana who did it, she cannot identify anyone — it is "the dark ones" is all she can answer. Quickly, before any of the neighbors can see them, Kino and Juana take the baby and go to Kino's brother's brush house; there, they hide all day long. During the day, Kino's brother, Juan Tomás, lets the other villagers think that Kino has escaped and gone, and he also borrows certain basic provisions for Kino's escape, even though he also feels that the pearl is now an evil thing. Kino, however, maintains that the pearl has become a part of his soul. Were he to give it up now, it would be as though he were giving up a part of his soul.

In terms of the total structure of the novel, Chapter 4 ended with Kino's decision to go away and with Juana's expressing again her fear of the pearl. Chapter 5 now opens with Juana's attempt to remove the tension caused by the pearl by throwing it into the sea. Here is the first indication that the family is breaking apart.

As noted above, when Kino attacks Juana, he is responding as though he were a savage, and the imagery which Steinbeck uses is that of an animal protecting himself. Kino feels that his manhood is involved with the pearl. If he gives it up, he will be admitting defeat and thus will lose his position as "the man" — note also that he emphasizes several times, "I am a man." Furthermore, if he allows Juana to decide about the pearl — that is, if he is left out of the final disposition of the pearl, he will no longer be the head of the house. Finally, the pearl has meant so much to Kino in his dreams that he cannot afford to sacrifice those dreams easily. He will pit himself against the mountains and against all forces in order to keep the pearl;

We should be aware that Juana passively accepts her beating. Her response is "sheeplike" because she knows that she has gone beyond the limited scope of the primitive wife. Because the characters are uncommunicative — all but mute — the author must find other means than speech to let the reader know their thoughts. As noted previously, the musical motifs frequently reveal Kino's emotional state when he has no words to express it. Thus, the manner in which Juana recovers from Kino's attack shows that she has accepted her position and will face what troubles the pearl will now bring to them. These troubles arrive almost immediately as Juana sees a stranger "with dark shiny fluid" on his body lying in the darkness. The description in this passage is highly effective because it stimulates our imaginations and emotions. It aligns the reader with Kino's determination to fight and, at the same time, makes us highly sympathetic to Juana's desire to be rid of the pearl.

Immediately after the attack, Juana realizes that the safety of the "old life was gone forever." She then "abandon[s] the past instantly" and sees that she must now rely upon new and strange forces that nothing in their past life has prepared them to encounter.

Kino, discovering that his canoe has been destroyed, feels that the "killing of a man was not so evil as the killing of a boat." We have seen earlier that the boat is a symbol of the family, its heritage and its power to continue. This reverence for the canoe tells us a great deal about Kino's society and about his cultural environment. The canoe is the only item of great value to him because it represents the importance of his culture, and it is something which he could pass on to Coyotito with great pride. Its destruction suggests the forces that are aligning themselves against Kino and which will ultimately drive him or pursue him into the mountains.

Next, the unknown "dark ones" set the house on fire. This vague and forbidding description adds a symbolic dimension. The "dark ones" are evil itself — the forces of darkness. By now, Kino's boat and his house have been destroyed, and he is left alone to face the dark forces.

Kino's determination to keep the pearl is the beginning of his destruction. He sees the pearl as a gift; he feels that he should hold on to it or else he will endanger his relationship with the gods. Similarly, the final exchange between Kino and Juan Tomás indicates that the pearl is more than a mere physical pearl or a treasure. Kino identifies it with his soul. "If I give it up I shall lose my soul." The truth is the opposite — in keeping the pearl, he is losing his soul, and only in the act of throwing it away will he be able to save his soul.

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




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