The Pearl: Essay Q&A
1. In what ways does Kino defy the patterns of life in the town and how does this change him?
Kino begins the novel poor and unable to think beyond the confines of his native fishing village. After discovering of the pearl, however, Kino begins to dream of possibilities for his family, most notably an education for his son, that were previously unthinkable. He sees these dreams materialize when he looks into the pearl's surface. Because he cannot simply ignore these dreams he embarks upon a course of action which eventually makes him a fugitive from his own village and a killer of men several times over. The people of the town did not trust their eyes due to the effects of the Gulf mist, yet Kino believes the things he first sees in the pearl and is deceived. The image of his son receiving an education is replaced by an image of the boy's dead body; similarly, the image of Kino and Juana being married in the church is replaced by an image of her bruised and swollen face after he has beaten her. When he returns to the village, defeated by the death of his son, he first offers Juana the chance to throw the pearl into the sea. This indicates that he has learned to appreciate her judgement and is, in a sense, yielding to her. That she insists that he be the one to throw the pearl into the sea indicates that she remains faithful to their previous way of life and, as she has always done, seeks to preserve it.
2. Throughout the story Kino and Juana are attuned to ancient songs that warn them of evil or nurture their sense of family. In what way do these songs serve as rhetorical devices to further the parable?
The use of the songs allows Steinbeck to emphasize Kino and Juana's essential innocence and connection with the natural world and also allows the author to sharply delineate between those things in the story which are to be read as "evil" and those that are understood to be "good". Thus, the Priest is accompanied by the song of evil and the reader knows, without being told in so many words, not to take his statements at face value. The stone that Juana uses to grind the corn, although a facet of her family's poverty, is accompanied by the song of the family and the reader is led to infer that in these simple things does the strength of goodness reside for Kino and his people.
3. The narrator says that to Juana men were "half-gods and half insane" and that she believed women capable of saving men at times through the woman's natural qualities of "reason, caution and sense of preservation." How are these gender roles vital to the story?
Kino believes he can capitalize on the wealth of the pearl because as a man in his native society he has always been the decision-maker and source of physical strength that has provided for its survival. Though he is initially frightened to go to the city he decides that he must make the journey in order that his family will not merely survive but prosper. Juana knows that because Kino is a man he will "drive his strength against a mountain" but "in her woman's soul" she knows that "the mountain would stand while the man broke himself." For this reason she attempts to dissuade Kino. In order for her way of life to continue, however, she must yield to his decisions until he can understand the pearl's evil himself.
4. What characters in the novel are portrayed as overtly good or evil? What characters are portrayed as ambiguous?
Of all the characters in the novel that of the Doctor is rendered most starkly evil and that of Juana is rendered most steadfastly good. The scene in which the Doctor dupes Juana by simply re-poisoning Coyotito and then pretends to cure him makes the Doctor seem all the more duplicitous and she all the more innocent. Ambiguous characters include the pearl buyers who, though they seek to purchase the pearls at the lowest price, are simply acting in accordance with the dictates of their profession and the trackers who doggedly pursue Kino and his family into the wilderness who, like the pearl buyers are not inherently good or bad but merely performing their duty to the best of their ability.
5. In what ways is The Pearl a political novel?
The Pearl is the story of a poor indian whose people have been subjugated for over four hundred years. While the descendents of the Europeans live in stone houses, surrounded by walls, Kino and his people live in grass shacks with earth floors. Kino's struggle to better the lot of his family and his eventual failure can be read as a condemnation of the economic system which prevents Kino from realizing the value of the great pearl. Significantly, Kino's most cherished dream is that his son might receive an education and free his people from the cycle of poverty and ignorance. Coyotito's death, however, destroys Kino's family and serves as a painful reminder that the injustices, which his people have always suffered, will not be overturned by the actions of an individual. The horror of Kino's failure reminds the reader of the need for reform and aid in societies where such action cannot be successfully implemented by the dispossessed.