The Pearl | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Course Hero, "The Pearl Study Guide," December 14, 2017, accessed December 19, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Pearl/.

The Pearl | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Kino and Juana walk through the windy night north toward Loreto, "where the miraculous Virgin has her station." Juana follows Kino, whose fear is penetrated by an "ancient thing" that has come alive in him. He hears the triumphant music of the pearl playing on top of the melody of the family. The wind settles and the moon rises. This means they will now leave footprints in the sand and can be tracked by those who wish to capture them and take the pearl.

They hide that day in a depression by the side of the road. At first light, Kino erases their footprints, telling his wife there are surely people pursuing them who intend to take the pearl. Juana says perhaps the pearl is valueless and "this has all been an illusion." Kino points out the pearl would not be coveted by robbers if it were valueless. Kino gazes into the pearl, hoping to see his beautiful visions of the future, but all he sees is the recent evil that has occurred. The music of the pearl turns sinister, and he puts it away.

Kino sleeps in the heat of the day and awakens with "an animal light in his eyes." Creeping to where he has a view of the road, he sees the three men who are pursuing them. Two of the trackers are walking, and a third follows on horseback, carrying a rifle. Afraid, Kino readies his knife. He knows once they find his traces, he must kill the horseman and take his rifle. He watches the trackers note the swept place where his tracks once were, and move on. However, he knows they will be back to find him later.

Kino returns to Juana in a panic and says perhaps he should let himself be captured. Juana protests: the trackers will kill all three of them. Deciding they must go west toward the high stone mountains, Kino runs unconcealed "for the high places as all animals do when pursued." Juana follows.

Kino tells Juana to hide. He will go into the mountains and let the trackers follow him, while she must go on to a city in the north and wait for him to escape and come to her. Three times she refuses him, insisting they will stay together. Seeing his wife is unafraid, Kino continues walking toward a cleft in the mountains where he expects to find water. He takes an indirect path in hopes of confusing the trackers.

Kino and Juana come to the spring in the cleft. As a source of water in the water-scarce desert, the spring draws animals from all around. Such springs are therefore "places of life" and also "places of killing." As the sun passes over the mountains, Kino finds a shallow cave. He says they must hide there until the trackers ascend. At this time, Kino says they will "slip away, down to the lowlands," but Juana must keep Coyotito from crying. Kino watches from the cave as the trackers move toward the spring, arriving there on foot at dusk.

As darkness falls Juana tries to keep Coyotito silent. Kino sees the three trackers illuminated when one of them lights a cigarette; the other two are sleeping, and the watcher holds the rifle. Kino says before the moon rises he must overtake the man with the rifle, kill him, and take it. There is no other choice, for the trackers will find them come morning. "Go with God," Juana tells him, and Kino removes his white clothing for the superior camouflage of his "own brown skin." From the cave, Juana "whisper[s] her ... Hail Marys and her ancient intercession, against the black unhuman things." Kino leaves her, and descends "like a slow lizard" down toward the spring. The sounds of the night around him arouse the "Song of the Family ... fierce and sharp and feline" in Kino's mind.

As the moon is about to rise, Kino comes to a hiding place mere feet from the trackers. Just as he prepares to attack the watcher, the moon rises, casting a "hard light and hard shadow" on everything. Kino prepares to leap into the attack when "from above came a little murmuring cry." The watcher, commenting that it may be the cry of a baby or a coyote, raises his gun toward the cave where Juana and Coyotito hide. In the same moment the gun fires, Kino leaps and kills the shooter with his knife. Having become "a terrible machine ... cold and deadly as steel," Kino takes the gun and kills the second man with the knife. The third "scrabble[s] away like a crab." Kino shoots him from a distance, then moves close and shoots him between the eyes. But it is too late: Kino hears "the cry of death" coming from the cave above.

Kino and Juana's return to La Paz late the next afternoon is an event that everyone remembers because it "happened to everyone." Strangely, the two walk side by side, bearing with them "two towers of darkness." Kino holds the rifle, while Juana holds her bloody shawl containing the body of Coyotito. They seem "removed from human experience," as if their ordeal has put "almost a magical protection about them." The crowd that gathers does not speak to them as they "walk through the city as though it were not there."

Passing his burned-down house and broken canoe, Kino, "immune and terrible," hears the Song of the Family as "a battle cry." Kino and Juana stand on the shore, and Kino looks at the pearl's "gray and ulcerous" surface. In it, he sees "the frantic eyes of the man in the pool" and Coyotito "with the top of his head shot away." Hearing the "music of the pearl, distorted and insane," Kino offers the pearl to Juana so she can throw it into the sea. "No, you," she says. Kino tosses the pearl into "the lovely green water," where it settles into hiding on the sea floor. Its music "drift[s] to a whisper and disappear[s]."

Analysis

In this chapter, Kino transforms from an animal into a "terrible machine." This transformation centers on the rifle, which is symbolically and literally powerful beyond measure. When Kino first found the pearl, he speculated about the things it would bring them. One of the things he wanted was a rifle, which seemed then "an impossibility." In a single tragic instant, the rifle kills Coyotito even as it enters Kino's possession. Of all the things Kino dreamed of the pearl bringing, the rifle is the only thing that the pearl actually brought to Kino. However, the manner in which the pearl brought Kino a rifle is horrifically unimaginable. When Kino spoke his desires, it was in joy, and he could not have anticipated a rifle would cost him his son's life.

The trackers, hearing Coyotito's cry, argue over whether it is a human or animal cry. This dialogue reinforces the idea, introduced earlier, that those in power view Kino's people as animals. In the first chapter, the doctor refused to treat Coyotito, exclaiming he is a doctor, not a veterinarian. Now, panicked flight and exile from their community have reduced Kino and his family to living like animals. They hide in a depression by the road where deer rest, and then take shelter in a cave, like an animal would. Juana tries to keep Coyotito silent, but she can no more do this than she could keep a baby coyote from wailing. And it is Coyotito's wail—a fear response that is as human as it is animal—that brings him his death.

Since Kino found the pearl, the neighbors have been keenly attuned and ever-present, waiting and watching to see how the pearl changes Kino and Juana. Some thought the pearl might destroy them by making them greedy; others thought it would bring the greatness Kino hoped for. No one expected the outcome to be Coyotito's death. Kino and Juana's return to town is silent, and the community that has assembled turns away from them. Even Juan Tomás does not speak a greeting to his brother, but only raises his hand "uncertainly." Unexpected transformations have occurred. The once beautiful pearl is now extremely ugly, and the beautiful visions in its surface have given way to horrific visions of death. Kino and Juana have entered into an exile, not just from their community but from "human experience" itself. They have a "magical protection" about them, because they have already lost everything that could be lost. It is the magic of the pearl—a dark and unwanted force.

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