The Pearl: Novel Summary: Chapter 4
It is early in the morning and the whole town of La Paz knows that this is the day that Kino will sell his pearl. The pearl buyers wait anxiously in their stalls to offer the lowest price possible for Kino's pearl. The narrator makes the point that this doesn't make them evil, it only makes them good pearl buyers because every man should strive to be his best their low bidding is a natural result of their station. The moisture in the air is especially thick and creates the mirage of a large mountain to the north of the city. The pearl divers stay on shore to witness the sale of Kino's pearl. Kino's neighbors discuss what they would do with the money and they hope that the pearl will not destroy Kino and his family by making them greedy. Because it is a special morning, Juana, Coyotito and Kino dress in their best clothes, which are simple and ragged but clean. Kino puts on his straw hat and checks to make sure it rides properly on his head - too far back or on the side would be indicative of a young, rash man and directly atop his head would be too much like an old man. Kino's hat rides slightly forward to indicate aggressiveness and certainty of purpose.
Many people follow the family as they walk into town but only Juan Thomes walks beside Kino. The two men agree that Kino must be careful not to be cheated but since neither knows what is paid for the pearls outside La Paz they are unsure how to value the pearl. Juan Thomes tells of a time before Kino was born when the elders of the village decided to hire an agent to take their pearls directly to the capital but after two men disappeared en route they gave up on the attempt and returned to the old way of going through the pearl buyers. Kino notes that as a result, the priest at that time and to the current day annually preached a sermon warning that each man should know his station in life and not try to better himself. The sun is intense and the brother's squint their eyes at the glare. The narrator notes that squinting is the only form of defense the poor indians have ever had against the descendents of the conquerors. As the procession makes it way through town many people come out of their homes to watch it pass.
In his office, a stout slow pearl buyer hopes that Kino will come to him. Like all the other buyers he has a black velvet-lined pearl tray in front of him. While he waits and hopes, the pearl buyer practices sleight of hand with a coin in his right hand below the desk. Kino enters this man's office and receives a kind greeting. The buyer continues to practice with his coin out of sight. Playing for dramatic effect, Kino slowly brings out his deerskin pouch and rolls the great pearl onto the buyer's tray. The buyer's face betrays no reaction but under the desk his fingers stumble with the coin and it drops into his lap. All the spectators hold their breath waiting to hear the buyer's offer. The dealer declares that the pearl is a monstrosity and of little value except as an oddity. The buyer denies Kino's insistence that it is a very valuable pearl and offers him only a thousand pesos. Kino accuses the buyer of trying to cheat him. The buyer assures Kino that the pearl is not valuable and to prove his claim he has a boy bring three other buyers to the office. Because they all work for the same man, these buyers know how much has been offered and none of them make a higher bid. Kino angrily insists he has been cheated and suggests that he will take the pearl to capital himself. The buyers realize too late that they have underbid by too great a sum and the man ups his offer to 1,500 pesos before Kino angrily storms out of his office.
Later that evening, the villagers discuss the event. Some believe the buyer and think Kino a fool not to have taken the generous offer of 1,500 pesos, others think that the buyers will never do business with Kino again and that he has destroyed himself in his brashness. Still others believe that Kino is courageous and silently hope for the best. Kino reburies the pearl and decides that though he is afraid of leaving the village he will do it and attempt to sell the pearl in the capital. Juan Thomes comes to visit and expresses his fears for Kino and observes that he has defied the village's way of life. Kino retorts that he must try to better himself and Juan Thomes gives his blessing.
Much later in the evening Kino is sitting despondently in the hut listening to the night noises and he senses evil things lurking outside. He steps outside with his knife in hand and is immediately attacked. Juana rushes to his aid, armed with a stone, but the assailants have retreated into the shadows and Kino is lying hurt with a bloody scalp and a long, deep cut from his ear to his chin. After Juana has cleaned Kino's wounds she again beseeches him to destroy the pearl and declares it a thing of evil that will destroy them if they keep it. Kino insists that he will overcome the evil and they shall not be cheated of their good fortune. He insists that she believe him because he is a man. Juana asserts that she is afraid because a man can be killed but Kino pays her no heed. Kino asks if she is afraid to go with him, over the sea and mountains to the capital and she answers that she will go. They lie down to sleep.
During the course of this chapter Kino and Juana realize the true strength of the forces arrayed against them. Though many people accompany them to the pearl buyer's office, it is more out of curiosity than for support. This is proven later when many of the villagers believe Kino has been foolish not to accept the offer of 1,500 pesos. Since none of the buyers will make what Kino feels to be a fair offer on the large pearl, Kino realizes that he will have to take the pearl to the city himself and that he will not be able to capitalize on his good luck as easily as he hoped. Furthermore, as the story Juan Thomes tells illustrates, he will now be defying the set way of doing things and may suffer as a consequence.
The pearl buyer's habit of practicing ledgermain with a coin is an effective literary device that illustrates his skill in bargaining without recourse to outright narrative exposition. The moment when he drops the coin upon seeing the pearl indicates to the reader that he recognizes the pearl's true value. Furthermore, the fact that his face does not betray this knowledge further illustrates to the reader the pearl buyer's skill as a broker.
After the second, more deadly attack upon Kino, Juana is convinced that the pearl will bring them nothing but destruction but Kino asserts his status as a man and insists that he can turn the pearl to fortune. That Juana agrees to accompany him to the capital illustrates her continued faith in him as well as her sense of place in the family. She has a voice but must acquiesce to her husband's decisions. Her decision to accompany him reveals that she is still most comfortable in her traditional role even though her husband is seeking to change his own role in the community.