The Pearl | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Pearl | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Scorpion

Kino is a poor, young, indigenous fisherman and pearl diver living in the Mexican village of La Paz. His wife Juana is strong and devoted, and their firstborn son Coyotito is an infant. Despite living with the awful legacy of colonialism, Kino and his family are content with their simple lives and their nurturing community.

Everything changes when a scorpion stings Coyotito, raising the possibility the infant might die. Because the racist town doctor will not come to the poor part of town, Kino and Juana carry Coyotito to the doctor to seek treatment. Kino only has eight small, ugly pearls to offer as payment, and the doctor refuses to treat the baby. Kino becomes enraged, but Juana prays they will find a pearl that will allow them to pay the doctor.

Finding the Pearl

The next morning Kino goes diving and finds the largest, most beautiful pearl he has ever seen. It is "the Pearl of the World." Moments later, Kino and Juana realize Coyotito seems to be recovering because of Juana's careful ministrations. The whole village assembles to hear what Kino will do with the money he will make from the pearl. The pearl awakens desire in Kino, because it lends an air of possibility to that which before seemed impossible. Kino says his family will have new clothes and fishing equipment. When Kino speaks aloud his desire for a rifle, he becomes drunk with possibility and announces the pearl will free all Kino's people. It will buy Coyotito an education. Kino thinks that if his son learns to read, write, and do mathematics, Coyotito will be able to protect them all from being cheated by those in power—as they have been cheated and abused since the Spanish first arrived in Mexico.

The Pearl Brings Evil

The problem is that Kino's pearl has awakened the greed in man, and so his possession of it makes him the enemy of those who covet it. The doctor, hearing of the pearl, comes to Kino's house. He gives Coyotito a sham treatment, insisting he has come to save the baby when his real motive is to find out the spot where Kino has buried the pearl. Kino is suspicious of the doctor, and his suspicions are confirmed that night when someone breaks into the house to steal the pearl. Kino fights off the intruder, and Juana begs him to throw the pearl away. Kino refuses, determined his son will learn to read.

When Kino goes to sell his pearl the following day, he realizes all the pearl buyers have united together to cheat him. He refuses to accept their ridiculously low offers, saying he will sell his pearl in the capital instead. That night, Kino is injured in a fight with a second would-be robber. Juana pleads again to throw away the pearl, and when Kino refuses, she sneaks out to throw it into the sea herself. Kino intercepts her violently, and moments later he kills a man who tries to attack him. As Juana and Kino walk back to the village, they see their canoe has been damaged and their house burned down.

After hiding all day in the home of Kino's brother Juan Tomás, Kino and Juana set off on foot for the city of Loreto, where Kino feels they will be safe. As they walk, Kino realizes he is being followed by three skilled trackers. Knowing they will find him and kill him for the pearl, Kino takes his family into the high mountains and hides them in a cave by a spring. When the trackers arrive hours later at the spring, Kino realizes it is a matter of hours before the trackers find them. His only chance is to surprise attack them with his knife, killing them and taking their rifle.

Return to the Sea

In the moonless night, Kino sneaks down to where the trackers are resting. Just as he is preparing to attack them, the moon rises, and Coyotito's wail rings out from the cave where Juana is keeping him hidden. The tracker with the gun fires at the cave, killing Coyotito. In the same instant, Kino manages to take the gun and kill the three men. It is too late, however—his son is already dead. Kino and Juana return to the village, broken. Juana carries Coyotito's body in her bloody shawl as they walk to the seashore, and Kino hurls the pearl back into the sea.

The Pearl Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Kino wakes to a normal, perfect morning at home.

Rising Action

2 A scorpion stings Coyotito.

3 The doctor refuses treatment as Kino cannot pay.

4 Kino finds the Pearl of the World.

5 Kino hopes the pearl will buy his son an education.

6 The doctor gives Coyotito a sham treatment.

7 Kino fights off an intruder, and Juana says the pearl is evil.

8 The pearl buyers try to cheat Kino.

9 Kino fights off a second intruder.

10 Kino's assault prevents Juana from throwing the pearl away.


11 Kino kills an attacker, and his home and boat are destroyed.

Falling Action

12 Kino and Juana walk north, hoping for safety.

13 The trackers pursuing them shoot Coyotito dead.

14 Kino kills the three trackers and takes their gun.


15 Kino and Juana return and throw the pearl into the sea.

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