The Pearl | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Pearl | Chapter 3 | Summary



The narrator describes a town as an organism, "like a colonial animal" with "a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet ... [and] a whole emotion." Because of the living nature of the town, news that Kino has "found the Pearl of the World" reaches town before he does. Everyone imagines what they would do were they the lucky one with the pearl. The pearl enters "the dreams, the speculations, the schemes, the plans, the futures, the wishes, the needs, the lusts, the hungers, of everyone." As these dreams spread, Kino becomes "curiously every man's enemy." The great pearl has "stirred up something infinitely black and evil in the town," but Kino and Juana are ignorant of this in their joy.

That afternoon, the neighbors gather at Kino's house, and Kino's older brother Juan Tomás asks him "What will you do now that you have become a rich man?" Kino sees the fulfillment of his wildest desires in the surface of the pearl, and he speaks his hopes and intentions. He wants to be married, and for his family to have new clothes. He wants new and better fishing equipment. He wants a rifle—which is "unimaginable." His greatest desire, however, is for Coyotito to go to school and become educated. He proclaims that "My son will ... open the books ... and will know writing ... [and] make numbers." Kino continues, describing his central desire, "and these things will make us free—he will know and through him we will know." Having said this, Kino becomes afraid, knowing that he has set something into motion by saying "what the pearl will do."

At dusk, the priest comes, a man who views Kino and his people as children. He brings with him the music of evil but patronizingly tells Kino he is "named after ... a great Father of the Church." He gasps when Kino shows him the pearl. He urges Kino to "give thanks ... to Him who has given thee this treasure, and to pray for guidance in the future." Juana tells the priest they plan to be married, and the priest approves, leaving with the words, "God bless you, my children."

After nightfall Kino becomes suspicious. He feels vulnerable because "now, by saying what his future was going to be like, he had created it." He believes he has also activated "other forces set up to destroy it." He knows "the gods do not love success unless it comes by accident." When the doctor arrives, he becomes quietly full of hate and fear, "for the hundreds of years of subjugation were cut deep in him."

The doctor puts doubt into Kino's mind about Coyotito's recovery. He claims the course of the scorpion's bite often includes a seeming improvement before the victim is crippled. Unwilling to pit "his certain ignorance against this man's possible knowledge," Kino is "trapped as his people were always trapped." Kino believes his people will be deceived, "until ... they could be sure that the things in the books were really in the books." Reluctantly, he allows the doctor to come in. The doctor gives Coyotito a white powder in a capsule while Kino watches suspiciously. The doctor says "the poison will attack within the hour," and that he will return then, hopefully able to save Coyotito.

Realizing he has been holding the pearl the whole time, Kino buries it in a corner of the earthen floor. As the night descends, Coyotito becomes "very sick," and Kino is uncertain, suspicious that the doctor might have actually poisoned Coyotito. Juana sings the "Song of the Family" as Coyotito "vomit[s] and writhe[s]" in her arms. The neighbors reassemble, aware of the baby's sickness, to comfort and comment on the situation. The doctor returns and claims he will stop the poison that has returned. He gives Coyotito water with a little ammonia, and Coyotito becomes well again.

"I have won the fight," the doctor claims. He asks for payment, pretending ignorance of Kino's pearl, hoping Kino "might look toward the place where it was buried." Kino does this, and when he and Juana are left alone, he hears again "the music of evil" and is "fierce and afraid." He reburies the pearl "under his sleeping mat," and tells Juana he fears "everyone."

Kino awakens from a restless dream, hearing "the music of evil." Someone is in the house, trying to dig up the pearl. He grabs his knife and attacks "like an angry cat ... striking and spitting for the dark thing" in the house. In a brief altercation Kino cuts the man with his knife, and the intruder hits Kino on the head and flees.

Juana takes "from a secret place ... a little piece of consecrated candle" and lights it and cleans Kino's head wound with her shawl. She pleads with Kino: "This thing is evil ... It will destroy us." She begs him to throw it away, and she is terrified. But Kino resists, claiming the pearl is their only chance for Coyotito to be educated and therefore to "break out of the pot that holds us in." Kino hushes Juana, and tells her they will sell the pearl tomorrow "and then the evil will be gone, and only the good remain." He cleanses the blood off his knife by driving it into the earth. Then he digs up the pearl and gazes at its beauty, which comforts him. He listens as "its own music came from it—its music of promise and delight, its guarantee of the future, of comfort, of security." As dawn comes, Kino and Juana feel hopeful.


The community that exists among the fishing people is as important an aspect of Kino's life as is nature. In fact, the community is itself like a natural organism: Steinbeck calls it a "colonial animal." This is a biological term, and its use is rooted in Steinbeck's travels in Mexico with his friend, the marine biologist Edward Ricketts. Steinbeck collected impressions and details for The Pearl (and the original folk legend on which the story is based) while on a scientific expedition along the Gulf of California with Ricketts. During this expedition, Steinbeck surely observed many "colonial animals," like the coral in the sea. Colonial animals are life forms that consist of many individual organisms that organize together to form a larger life form. Steinbeck applies this concept metaphorically to describe the community of which Kino is a part. The implications are numerous. Not only does the community possess a collective intelligence and "whole emotion," but individuals can survive only by being part of the collective. Kino's life is in his community, and if something happens to separate him from that community, he will not be able to live.

But this is precisely what happens when Kino finds the pearl. His very possession of the pearl and its implied wealth separates him from his community, which is poor and lives without money. If Kino's pearl makes him rich, as seems certain, he will be more like the people of the doctor's race who live in the "city of stone and plaster." Yet he will never be truly a part of that community because he is an indigenous fisherman. He speaks the old language and carries in him the ancient songs of his people. With the songs comes the inherited rage of hundreds of years of colonial oppression. Kino is now stuck in an in-between place. He possesses the promise of money, but not money itself, and is separate from his own people, but also separate from the race of colonizers. Kino hopes the pearl will change this state of affairs not just for himself and his family but for his entire community. He wants the pearl to free his people by allowing Coyotito to be educated. If Coyotito could read, Kino reasons, then the fishing people could no longer be tricked by those who claim the knowledge "written in the books."

This is a precarious position, and the colonizers will do all they can to ensure Kino does not rise above his station. The doctor's deceptiveness in his sham treatment of Coyotito and his feigned ignorance of the pearl is evidence of this. So is the priest's patronizing appearance in Kino's home, a visit which arouses in Kino the "music of the enemy." Further, the sanctity of Kino's home is destroyed when an intruder comes in the night and tries to steal the buried pearl. Kino and his family are no longer safe, and they can take refuge nowhere. The pearl has made Kino "every man's enemy."

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