The Pearl | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Pearl | Quotes


Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for 'little Indians'? I am a doctor, not a veterinary.

Doctor, Chapter 1

Juana and Kino take Coyotito to the doctor's house because his scorpion bite could kill the infant. The doctor's scornful, dismissive reply conveys his sense of superiority over as well as his resentment of Kino's people. Not only does he deny Coyotito a potentially life-saving treatment, he also denies the humanity of all Kino's race. To the doctor, the indigenous people are animals, not human beings.


The songs were all in Kino and in his people—every song ... even the ones forgotten.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Kino's actions and emotions are guided by the songs he hears in his head. Depending on what is happening Kino hears the Song of the Family, the Song of the Pearl That Might Be, the Song of the Pearl, and the Song of Evil. Kino relates to the world in this way because his ancestors used songs to describe, contain, and understand the world. Like all Kino's people, he has inherited all the songs—the collected knowledge—of his ancestors.


In this Gulf of uncertain light, there were more illusions than realities.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Although the "ghostly gleam" Kino saw emanating from the enormous oyster seems to suggest an equally giant pearl inside, Kino knows better than to trust what his eyes seem to show him. Like all the fishing people of the Gulf, Kino understands that because of the way the light falls there, the eyes cannot easily differentiate between what is real and what is mere illusion. Kino knows he might have found a pearl of inestimable value—or nothing at all.


The poison sacs of the town began to manufacture venom, and the town swelled ... with the pressure.

Narrator, Chapter 3

Using metaphorical language that recalls Coyotito's shoulder, swollen from the venom of the scorpion's sting, Steinbeck describes the effect the news of Kino's pearl has on the town. Kino's good fortune immediately arouses the greed of all those around him. This greed is like venom, and it moves through the town like an infection. The organism that is the town is literally made sick by Kino's good fortune.


It is said that humans are never satisfied ... It is one of the greatest talents the species has.

Narrator, Chapter 3

The narrator makes this comment after Kino says he not only intends to use the pearl to be married and have new clothes and fishing equipment but also to buy a rifle. That Kino could have a rifle seemed previously "an impossibility," but now he imagines the rifle, and from there goes on to imagine that Coyotito could become educated and free them all from oppression. The narrator observes how the human desire for progress may be rooted in perpetual dissatisfaction with what is. But this dissatisfaction is what makes humans "superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have."


These things will make us free because he will know ... and through him we will know.

Kino, Chapter 3

Kino's central desire is for his people to be set free of the trap of deception, abuse, and exploitation they have existed in since the Spanish conquered Mexico. In front of the assembled community, Kino announces his plan in the form of a prophecy. He will use the pearl to pay for Coyotito's education. Coyotito's literacy will ensure that Kino's people will finally be able to access the truth themselves and will no longer have to accept the lies told them by those in power.


He could not take the chance of putting his certain ignorance against this man's possible knowledge.

Narrator, Chapter 3

Kino is suspicious of the doctor's intentions when the doctor comes to Kino's home to treat Coyotito after Kino found the great pearl. Kino's senses and intuition tell him Coyotito is already well and the doctor has bad intentions, but the doctor "traps" Kino by telling him scorpion victims often seem to recover before ending up crippled. Unwilling to take a chance with his son's health, Kino lets the doctor have access to the baby.


"Who do you fear?" Kino searched for a true answer, and at last he said: "Everyone."

Kino, Chapter 3

After the doctor comes to his hut intending to discover the pearl's hiding place, and after he realizes the great interest everyone (including the priest) has in his pearl, Kino becomes afraid. He is now alienated from his community because he realizes that as long as he has the pearl he can trust no one. His wife Juana, whose concerned questioning here prompts Kino's self-examination and honest response, is his one remaining ally.


Let us throw it back in the sea. It has brought evil. Kino, my husband, it will destroy us.

Juana, Chapter 3

After Kino fights off a would-be robber during the night, Juana expresses her desperation over the pearl to Kino for the first time. Juana sees clearly what the pearl is and what it will do, but Kino is blinded by his belief the pearl can give their son a chance at an education. Kino ignores Juana despite her insistence the pearl is evil.


No one does less than his best, no matter what he may think about it.

Narrator, Chapter 4

The narrator inserts this comment after describing how the pearl buyers work. Although they do not stand to gain much personally by cheating the pearl sellers as much as possible, they nonetheless do this to the best of their ability. The same is true for every person, whatever his or her purpose in life may be and whether that purpose is good or evil.


Each one must remain faithful to his post and must not go running about.

Kino, Chapter 4

On the way to sell Kino's pearl, Juan Tomás reminds Kino of how their forefathers' attempts to prevent pearl buyers from cheating them ended in futility and loss. Kino replies the priest often preaches about this incident, using it as evidence of God's support for the prevailing social power structure. He paraphrases the priest's sermon, which implies that it is the native people's duty to accept their subordinate position because God has willed it.


"My friends will protect me." "Only so long as they are not in danger or discomfort from it."

Juan Tomás, Chapter 4

After Kino refuses to accept being cheated by the pearl buyer, he speaks with his brother Juan Tomás of the danger he has put himself in. Kino's assertion that his friends will nonetheless protect him is denial, as well as a way to gauge the depths of his brother's loyalty. As Juan Tomás says, Kino has "defied" the entire structure of society and in doing so has lost any claim to its protection.


She knew there was murder in him and it was all right; she had accepted it.

Narrator, Chapter 5

When Juana slips away to throw the pearl into the sea behind Kino's back, he catches her and knocks the pearl out of her hand. Kino, possessed with rage, then goes on to punch her in the face and kick her in the side. Juana does not retaliate or object to this violence from her husband; she understands it is central to his nature because he is a man.


Juana, in her woman's soul, knew that the mountain would stand while the man broke himself.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Although Kino assaults her when she tries to throw out the pearl in order to save their lives, Juana is not angry. She understands that central to Kino's manhood is the insane drive to challenge the tremendous powers of nature and God with his own small power. She knows that Kino will destroy himself in doing this but also knows that if he did not do it, he would not be a man.


Everyone in La Paz remembers the return of the family ... It is an event that happened to everyone.

Narrator, Chapter 6

The narrator underscores the fact that the story of Kino and Juana is an important part of the communal mythology of the people of La Paz, while emphasizing the theme that a community has shared knowledge that persists among individuals who are seemingly separated in space and in time. Even those who did not see the return remember it because they are connected through stories and blood to the actual witnesses.

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