The Pearl By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 6

Chapter 6 begins with Kino and his family making an exodus from his known world to enter a new, strange world where they do not know their way. They are leaving the safety and the assurance of one life because of Kino's fierce desire to start a new life. The pearl, if it can be sold, will allow Coyotito to go to school and to be a part of this new world, but first Kino must make his way through a strange and alien world.

As they begin their journey, "some ancient thing stirred in Kino. . . . " They avoid the center of town because they are afraid that they might be noticed — ironically, only two days ago they led a long procession down to the center of the town when they sought the doctor's help. Now they are sneaking out of the town and heading toward Loreto, where "the miraculous Virgin has her station." This irony becomes apparent later when nothing will be helpful to Kino and Juana.

At first, Kino is happy for the wind; it will cover up their tracks, but in a short time the wind dies down, and he knows there will be footprints left behind them. Still, as he is escaping, the "music of the pearl was triumphant in Kino's head." Each time they change their direction, Kino returns with a brush and sweeps their footsteps away.

Since they are far from the Gulf now, the sun is hot, and Kino lectures Juana on the kinds of poisonous plants to be avoided. Juana wonders if they will be followed; Kino knows that they will be followed because the pearl must be extremely valuable or else so many people would not have tried such desperate measures to take the pearl away from him.

Since they travel during the night, at dawn they conceal themselves in a clearing and settle down for the day; Juana and Coyotito sleep, and Kino watches over them. When Juana awakens, she wonders if it was the pearl dealers who attacked Kino, but he was not able to see or identify his attackers. In the past and here in this chapter, Kino's enemies will remain simply the "dark ones," forces or men who are never identified.

Kino sleeps and dreams of the great pearl, of being married in the church and of giving Coyotito an education. He awakens suddenly from a restless sleep and is immediately alerted to some noise. Instructing Juana to keep Coyotito quiet, he cautiously creeps to the clearing, "an animal light" in his eyes. Steinbeck is now beginning to emphasize that Kino is becoming more and more like a hunted animal; and increasingly, Kino's actions will be seen in terms of a desperate, trapped animal. Suddenly, he sees the trackers who are following him — two men on foot, following his tracks and one man on horseback carrying a rifle, which shines in the reflection of the sun. Kino knows how good these trackers are: "They were as sensitive as hounds"; furthermore, they can read almost invisible signs and determine the direction of the pursued. Kino knows that escape from these expert trackers is probably impossible. Thus, he must make plans to protect his family against them. As the trackers come near enough for Kino to see their legs, he watches them return to the place where he brushed out their tracks earlier. Then they move on, but Kino knows that they will circle and come back to the same place and eventually pick up his and Juana's tracks. He panics and tells Juana to pack, and that he will let them take him prisoner. Juana reminds him that the trackers will not let either her or Coyotito live. Then, not even bothering to conceal their direction, they head for the higher mountains. Steinbeck describes their flight this way: "And Kino ran for the high place, as nearly all animals do when they are pursued." Again, he continues to emphasize the animal aspect of Kino's behavior.

When they reach the first rise, Kino tries to persuade Juana to hide in a crevice with Coyotito and let him lead the trackers away, up into the mountains; then he will return. Juana is too frightened and refuses to be left alone. Three times she refuses before Kino relinquishes. They then move into the mountains, where Kino knows that they will find water. When they reach the small spring, they refresh themselves with cool water, and Kino peers out behind him. He can see the trackers far away. Even though the trackers are "little more than little dots" on the landscape, Kino knows that they will be where he now is by evening. He and Juana decide to hide in little erosion caves. He places Juana and Coyotito in one of these small caves, then he returns to the spring and makes all sorts of false trails up the other side of the mountain. He tells Juana that when the trackers follow the false trails, they can then slip away down to the lowlands again. Kino, however, is frightened that Coyotito may cry, and so he relegates to Juana the responsibility of seeing that Coyotito makes no noise.

When the trackers arrive, they immediately see the false tracks up the other side of the mountain. The trackers, however, decide to camp for the night beside the spring until morning. This is bad; Kino knows that he and his family cannot stay concealed and quiet throughout the night. He decides, therefore, that he must attack the trackers, killing, first, the one with the rifle, then the other two. If he is killed, Juana is to remain hidden and then escape when the trackers leave: "There is no choice . . . it is the only way," Kino says, "They will find us in the morning." Tenderly and fumblingly, he touches Coyotito and then Juana's cheek; then he removes his torn and ragged white clothes so that his brown skin will be difficult to see in the darkness. As he leaves, Juana moves to the entrance of the cave to watch him. (Ironically, had Juana remained in the back of the cave, instead of moving forward to watch Kino; Coyotito's life would have been saved by the protection of the cave.)

Kino moves slowly and deliberately down the mountain toward the camp fire, placing each foot down with extreme care so as not to turn over even the smallest stone. His knife is hanging down his back so that it will not hit a stone and make a noise. As he inches within a short distance from the tracker with the rifle (the others are sleeping), the moon begins to rise, and Kino is desperate. He cannot wait until the full moon; he must attack now. Suddenly from above, there comes a "little murmuring cry." The watcher thinks it sounds like a cry, "almost like a human — like a baby." One of the others, who is now awake, says that sometimes a "coyote pup cries like a baby." (Ironically, the noise does come from Coyotito, whose name means "little coyote.") As the watcher raises his gun to fire in that direction, Kino, like a wild animal, strikes at the man with the rifle: "Kino was in mid-leap when the gun crashed and [his] great knife swung and crunched hollowly. It bit through neck and deep into chest." He grabs the rifle and immediately kills the second man. As the third man is frantically scrambling up the mountain to escape, Kino deliberately ("Kino had become as cold and deadly as steel") aims and fires at the enemy, who tumbles back down the mountain. Only then is Kino aware of a sound — some wrong signal — it is "the keening, moaning, rising hysterical cry from the little cave in the side of the stone mountain, the cry of death."

With the passing of time, everyone remembers how Kino and Juana returned to the town of La Paz; their return has become a part of the folklore and legend of the town. Steinbeck tells us that it was late in the afternoon when they arrived back in town. They were walking side by side, rather than in single file, as is customary. Their suffering has removed traditional barriers and has made them equal.

Kino carries a long rifle across his arm, and Juana carries a "small limp heavy bundle," a bundle which holds Coyotito's dead body. Her face is "hard and lined and leathery with fatigue . . . and she [is] remote and removed." They both seem to be removed from all human experiences. They walk through the town and through the village like well-made wooden dolls, neither glancing in either direction nor greeting any of the villagers.

When they come to the beach, Kino removes the pearl and stares at its surface; there, he sees all of the evil that has happened to him — "in the surface of the pearl he [sees] Coyotito lying in the little cave with the top of his head shot way." He gives the pearl to Juana to throw away, but she refuses saying "No, you." Kino draws back his arm and hurls the pearl as far out into the Gulf as he can. It sinks into the water and settles down to the sandy bottom among the waving branches of the water plants. "And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared."

In this final chapter of the novel, Steinbeck begins his narrative by having his characters make an exodus from the town, and he ends the chapter (and the novel) with the return of the travelers to the town, thus making the chapter circular in structure. Furthermore the entire chapter is circular in motion since the central part of the chapter emphasizes the various circular motions that Kino undertakes to elude the trackers.

At the beginning of the chapter, Kino is very determined that he will save his Pearl of the World. As Steinbeck indicates, there is something primitive in Kino as he is determined, at first, to protect his pearl at all costs. Steinbeck also seems to be implying that as society turns against Kino and tries to rob him of his pearl, then Kino must become more like an animal. For a point in contrast, the reader should read and compare this novella with Steinbeck's classic short story "Flight," a story which tells the parable of a simple young peasant (Pepé), who is almost identical to Kino. In this short story, the young native is forced to kill a man who threatens his life; he is then pursued by a posse, and he, like Kino, becomes gradually more and more like a hunted animal; and whereas in The Pearl, the pursuers are never identified, remaining always a dark, remote force of evil, likewise, in the story "Flight," the posse is never seen or identified — it always remains a distant, threatening force which ultimately kills the young man.

The change in Kino from a man into an animal is indicated by the changing meanings of the pearl and other things important to Kino. For example, when Kino looks into the pearl to find the visions he first saw in it, the evil which the pearl has brought has distorted the visions so that a bad image is substituted for each of the original good images. The gleaming rifle becomes a murdered man; the wedding in the church becomes Juana's beaten face. Coyotito's education becomes the baby's sick and fevered face. The music of the pearl becomes the music of evil. Notice that these ideas are expressed in a one-to-one relationship.

As the trackers track down Kino and Juana, Kino becomes more like a wild animal. He and his family are no longer a part of a safe community; instead, they become objects of a primitive hunt.

The ground which they cross is barren and dry while their destination, the mountain, is cool and welcoming. There is clearly a symbolic identification with death (sterility, desert heat, and dehydration) and life (fertility, life-giving moisture, and coolness). Thus, there is an ironic reversal in that they find death, not life, in the mountains. This supports the irony that the great pearl brings evil and disaster, not happiness.

More specifically, the spring is described in terms of a place of rest and of life. But it is also a place of death. It is where animals come for water, but it is also a place where certain animals kill other animals. For Kino, it will be a temporary refuge, but later it will be the site of his own son's death.

Kino and Juana return to the town carrying a bundle. It is not until later that it is realized that the bundle contains the dead baby, Coyotito. We realize the Kino won his fight against the three trackers but in doing so, he lost his son and, with him, all of his dreams. The pearl was to have secured for Coyotito a good education and for Kino, a good rifle. Kino does enter the town carrying a rifle but this, in terms of the death of his son, is completely meaningless.

With their entrance into the town, a third procession occurs. This time, Juana is walking side by side with Kino. Both have learned much from the tragedy that they have shared. They have "gone through pain and [have] come out on the other side." There is almost a magical protection about them.

Kino and Juana go straight to the Gulf, where Kino gives her the pearl to throw away. This time, Juana returns it to Kino knowing that he alone must decide what to do with the pearl. He draws back his arm and flings the pearl with all his might. Finally, it settles to the bottom of the ocean.

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




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