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The Pearl | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Pearl | Chapter 5 | Summary



That night, Kino wakes up just as Juana has dug up the pearl and is taking it out to the beach to throw it away. Full of rage, he runs after her, and as she is about to throw it, he hits her, she falls, and he kicks her. Juana lies in the shallow water: "She knew there was murder in him and it was all right; she had accepted it." She knows Kino is a man, and this means he is "half insane and half god." She knows "the mountain would stand while the man broke himself," but she also cannot live without Kino.

The pearl, knocked from her hand, lies in the path. She follows Kino back toward the house, but stops when she sees the pearl there, and contemplates making another effort at throwing the pearl away. Then she sees Kino lying in the path next to "a stranger with dark shiny fluid leaking from his throat." He has committed murder, and now "the old life was gone forever" and all they can do is "save themselves."

Juana removes the corpse and tends her husband's wounds. Kino is distraught, thinking the pearl has been lost; Juana gives him the pearl, saying, "Can you understand? You have killed a man." She convinces him they must leave, for "they will come for us." The situation becomes worse when Kino finds someone has knocked a hole in his canoe. In Kino's mind "The killing of a man was not so evil as the killing of a boat." This is because "a boat cannot protect itself, and a wounded boat does not heal." Kino is possessed by an animal rage. Concerned now only with "preserv[ing] himself and his family," he hides the pearl under his shirt and walks toward his home. But he finds Juana running back to him with the child and a blazing light behind her. She tells him "the dark ones" have burned their home to the ground.

Kino now becomes afraid, for "light was danger to him." Kino and Juana sneak into Juan Tomás's house. They hear Apolonia wailing "a formal lament"; she thinks they have perished in the fire. Juan Tomás arrives, and Kino tells him he was attacked and has killed an unknown man: "it is all darkness and shape of darkness." Juan Tomás says "there is a devil in this pearl" and asks his brother to give it up. Kino tells his brother the breaking of his canoe is an "insult ... deeper than [his] life." He begs Juan Tomás to hide them until nightfall, when they will leave town.

Kino and Juana wait silently in the house all day. Juan Tomás spreads different rumors among the neighbors about the possible whereabouts of Kino and Juana. As the day progresses, he presents the idea that Kino and Juana have perished on the sea. Juan Tomás borrows from his neighbors food and tools, which he gives to Kino. Kino plans to go north to the cities he has heard of in stories. He will keep the pearl: "It is my misfortune and my life and I will keep it." In fact, Kino says the pearl "has become [his] soul," and to give it up would be to "lose [his] soul." Before setting out into the early night, Kino tells his brother, "Go thou also with God."


In this chapter Kino's longing to rise above his station in life leads to violations and transgressions that were previously unimaginable. These violations all happen in the darkness, which has always been unsafe in Kino's worldview. Now, having become a criminal, the light that was once safety and wholeness is now also dangerous to him.

The pearl that seemed to promise salvation has proven itself to be a carrier of evil. Juana has spoken of the pearl's evil to Kino, and now Juan Tomás has done the same. But Kino does not listen to his wife or his brother. He is like a man possessed. The pearl that was in the previous chapter his son's only chance at an education has taken greater hold over Kino, now becoming his "soul."

This chapter is full of violence, as Kino temporarily loses his humanity and becomes like a demon or an animal. He stops Juana from throwing the pearl just as her arm is poised to let it go, and then he goes further. He punches her in the face and kicks her in the side after she has already fallen. The violence is needless and egregious, and it underscores the power balance between Kino and Juana. Juana accepts this violence from her husband without protest. She looks to him with "wide unfrightened" eyes, and she is "like a sheep before the butcher." Juana bears in her "woman's soul" the contradiction of knowing she needs Kino and must therefore submit to him, but also knowing that he is wrong. Kino himself is a contradiction: "half insane and half god."

Soon after that, Kino commits murder, claiming he "struck to save [his] life." In Kino's crazed state, it is not the loss of the man's life that worries Kino, but the loss of the pearl. When he realizes the pearl is not gone, he has another loss to contend with. This is the loss of his boat, which for Kino is a murder worse than the murder of a human. Kino and Juana must also confront the loss of their life in La Paz, knowing that they must flee.

But even with his boat broken and his life changed forever, Kino sticks to certain moral principles. He must escape, and it would be easy to steal the canoe of another man to do so. However, this does not even occur to Kino as an option. The canoe, as the source of sustenance itself for a fisherman, is sacred to Kino. He would not steal the ability to survive from another man who has done him no wrong. He has not lost his humanity entirely, although he seems to be on the brink of doing so.

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