The Pearl: Novel Summary: Chapter 2

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The second chapter begins with a description of the town's broad estuary. Steinbeck characteristically begins with the larger panorama of the lay of the land and then moves into progressively smaller details in the landscape. On the beach are the villager's canoes -- seaworthy boats that are passed down from father to son and are protected against the elements by a shell plaster made from a secret recipe known only to the fishing people. Also on the beach are dogs and pigs that search for dead fish and birds to eat. The estuary is home to numerous sea flora and fauna such as fiddler crabs, eel grass and the poisonous spotted botete fish. Due to the effects of the sun and sea mist a hazy blanket of moisture often hangs over the coast and causes mirages to appear. As a result the villagers have learned to trust their instincts more than their eyes.
Kino and Juana with Coyotito come to the beach to put out to sea in Kino's canoe. The canoe has been handed down from Kino's grandfather and father and is his only valuable possession; moreover, without the canoe Kino and his family would be unable to fish and hunt pearls and they would starve. Kino places his diving rock and ropes in the canoe.
Juana puts a seaweed poultice on Coyotito's arm. The narrator observes that the poultice will do more for the baby's wound than anything the doctor could do but that, in her ignorance, Juana prays that Kino might find a pearl of sufficient value to pay the doctor. Kino and Juana get in the canoe and together they paddle out to the oyster bed. The narrator states that this oyster bed has been well worked since the days when it made the King of Spain a great power. A pearl forms in an oyster when a grain of sand irritates the oyster's flesh until the oyster forms a protective shell around the irritation. The resulting pearl is thus an accident and finding one is a matter of luck.
Using his diving stone, Kino sinks to the seafloor and carefully begins placing oysters in his basket. The Song of the Sea is in Kino's ears and interwoven with it is the Song of the Pearl That Might Be. Because of Coyotito's illness the Song of the Pearl is louder that day than on other days. Kino is young and strong and can hold is breath for more than two minutes at a time. Just before Kino reaches the point where he must return to the surface for air, however, he sees a large oyster with a reflective flash inside. Hopeful, Kino grabs the oyster and returns to the canoe. Not wanting to press their luck, Juana and Kino ignore the large oyster for a moment but Kino soon opens it with his knife and they discover a large, perfect pearl. The narrator describes it as "the greatest pearl in the world."
Holding the pearl in his damaged hand, Kino begins to imagine the possibilities that have suddenly opened up to him through the wealth the pearl will bring his family. Juana calls Kino's attention to Coyotito's shoulder where the swelling has subsided and Kino's joy at his good fortune overflows in a loud cry of happiness that all the other oyster divers out on the water can hear.
Analysis
Steinbeck begins this chapter by first describing the larger panorama of the surrounding terrain before moving onto descriptions of progressively smaller details in the landscape. In this manner the fisherpeople are linked to the larger natural world of the estuary, which encompasses not only the lush sea life, but also the villager's canoes on the beach and the curtain of Gulf moisture that pervades the town.
The narrator's interjections throughout this chapter are important for through them we learn details that are hidden from the characters but which affect our reading of them. For instance, the reader knows that the seaweed poultice will do more to treat Coyotito's wound than anything the doctor could have provided will. Juana, who does not know this, continues to pray for money to pay the doctor. The narrator also informs the reader that the pearl that Kino holds is "the pearl of the world." Because Kino does not know this he will never know what constitutes its fair market value.
This chapter also serves to broaden the reader's understanding of Juana's role in the family. We learn, for instance, that she is an active and necessary partner in the process of gathering pearls. Thus, not only does she sustain the family by caring for Coyotito and preparing their meals but she also helps row the canoe to the oyster beds. Her relationship with Kino has a strong element of pragmatism made necessary by their poverty and the physical difficulties inherent to their daily work. This is why the narrator observes of Kino's canoe that "it was at one property and source of food, for a man with a boat can guarantee a woman that she will eat something."
The narrator's description of pearls as the accidental byproducts of the irritation caused by a grain of sand in an oyster muscle, serves to establish the cause for their rarity and thus their value. It also serves to establish the degree of luck it takes to find one, much less a truly valuable one. The Song of the Pearl that Might Be consists of Kino's dreams, anxieties and prayers - all of which play a part in his submarine search. The narrator suggests that because of Coyotito's wound the need for a valuable pearl is even greater for Kino on that day than on others and the song is more audible in Kino's ears as a result. In this way the narrator connects the scorpion's sting to Kino's discovery of the pearl.
The moment Kino sees the pearl he is changed by the possibilities it holds for his family. Just like the pearl was a kind of seed embedded in the oyster, so now are Kino's dreams of a new life embedded in his psyche because of the pearl.