Summary and Analysis
In contrast to the first chapter, this chapter takes us out into the Gulf, where the Pearl of the World is to be found. Along the shore, the graceful old canoes are silent, but the Gulf itself is teeming with sea life of various kinds: brown algae floats upward and supports little sea horses while poisonous fish lie "on the bottom in the eel-grass beds," and bright swimming crabs and many other varieties of sea life contend with each other in the battle of survival. Into this alien world come Kino and Juana. This morning, they are far behind the others because of the attention required by Coyotito.
Kino's canoe, which is "at once property and a source of food," has been in his family for two generations. The irony here is, of course, that the canoe represents a continuation of the family tradition, since it belonged first to Kino's father and before that to his grandfather, and yet at the end of the story, Kino will have neither a child nor a canoe to pass on to another generation.
Juana gathers some brown seaweed and makes a "flat damp poultice," which she applies to Coyotito's swollen shoulder. Note that Steinbeck says that this primitive treatment was as good a remedy as any other, or probably better than any remedy that the doctor in town could give. This should be remembered, for in the next chapter the doctor does administer something to Coyotito and it makes him very ill — until the doctor returns and gives him something else to counteract the first dose.
The oyster bed where Kino dives is the same bed which once furnished enough pearls to make the king of Spain rich enough to become a great power in Europe. Steinbeck then explains how a pearl is formed. When a grain of sand begins to irritate the oyster's inner folds of muscle, it emits a layer of secretion which surrounds the grain of sand and this emission, once started, continues until there is a great pearl. Ironically, out of the pain of the oyster, there emerges one of nature's beautiful objects — the pearl.
As Kino begins to dive, he remembers that his people have sung a song for almost every occasion in the world. Now as he dives, he seems to hear the Song of the Pearl That Might Be. As he collects oysters, he suddenly spots one that is larger than all the others, lying in a very isolated spot. Through a glimpse of light, he thinks that he spots a large pearl inside. He quickly pulls the oyster away and surfaces to the boat where Juana can sense an air of excitement as Kino climbs into the boat. Kino, however, does not want to open the big oyster yet — one must "be very tactful with God or the gods." After a bit, Juana prompts him to open it, and sure enough, there is the greatest pearl in the world. It is as large as a sea gull's egg, as perfect as the moon and as refined as if it were made of silver incandescence.
After Juana approaches to look at the pearl, she instinctively goes to Coyotito and discovers that the swelling in the baby's shoulder has disappeared. Kino, out of joy over the pearl and because of his joy over Coyotito's recovery, lets out a howl so loud that the rest of the pearl divers race to his boat.
As in the first chapter, this one also begins by describing some aspect of the town. It is a cinematic technique — that is, the author eventually focuses in on the canoe on the beach. The canoes become representative of the continuance of the primitive family, since each family has a canoe that has been a part of the family for generations.
The factual descriptions of the beach include the brown algae and the various flora and fauna. The hazy mirage over the beach provides the author with a starting point for a digression on the imagination, a new way of viewing the Gulf. All these things seem unreal and have the vagueness of a dream, suggesting that these primitive people trust things of the imagination and of the spirit. This is, in some ways, a description of Kino's mind because before he opens the pearl, he has visions and dreams of what he is going to do with the money that he will receive. Kino's primitive imagination allows him to respond to the wonders of the pearl before he actually opens the oyster.
Steinbeck sometimes offers a digressive element from the actual story, and usually these are indicative of Steinbeck's attitude toward some aspect of the story. They are often slanted against the church or society or, as in this chapter, they provide a bit of factual information about how the oyster forms a pearl.
Immediately before finding the pearl, there is the introduction of another song, the Song of the Pearl That Might Be. All of Kino's hopes are centered on finding the pearl so that his son, Coyotito, can receive proper medical treatment now, and later Coyotito can receive a good education in the style of the conquerors.
When they find the pearl, both Juana and Kino exercise great tact in not angering the gods by showing their eagerness to open the big oyster. The reader is to understand this as primitive superstition. Since the pearl is to be the means whereby Coyotito will receive an education, it is ironic that the superstition is important here. In addition to the concept of superstition, the delay may also be seen merely as a device for arousing suspense.
Note the descriptions of the pearl. It is first described as "the great pearl, perfect as the moon." Now it is a force for great good; it will only gradually become a force for great evil. As Kino holds the pearl in the same hand that he smashed against the doctor's gate, there is the suggestion that the pearl will ultimately be used to prevent such injustices. In the hands of Kino, the simple and primitive man, the pearl is a force for great good, but when the pearl becomes known to the more civilized world, it will then become a force for evil. Both of the first two chapters end with the mention of Kino's wounded hand, a hand which will influence his actions throughout the rest of the novella. The goodness of the pearl is represented by the fact that young Coyotito's wound has disappeared.