The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Kino, the novella’s protagonist, is a young Mexican-Indian pearl diver married to Juana; they have a baby named Coyotito. Their lives seem rather peaceful, but their tranquility is threatened when a scorpion bites Coyotito. Juana tells Kino to go to town and get the doctor, but Kino and their neighbors tell Juana that the doctor will never come to where they live, so Juana decides to take matters into her own hands and sets off with Coyotito to the doctor. Kino accompanies Juana, and many members of the village follow them to see what will happen. At the doctor’s house, the doctor’s servant tells Kino and Juana that the doctor is not at home — in truth, the doctor is home but will not help Coyotito because Kino cannot pay the doctor as much as the doctor wants, but also because the doctor is prejudiced against Kino’s race.

Kino goes to work diving in the Gulf for oysters from his canoe; Juana tends to Coyotito in the canoe by applying brown seaweed to his shoulder, which is swollen from the scorpion’s bite. As Kino is collecting oysters on the ocean bottom, he spots a larger-than-usual oyster, collects it, and returns to the canoe. Kino does not want to open the oyster immediately, but Juana prompts him to open the oyster; when he does, he finds a pearl the size of a sea gull’s egg. Juana gazes at the immense pearl; she then goes to check on Coyotito and discovers that Coyotito’s shoulder is no longer swollen. Kino is immensely happy about both the pearl and Coyotito, believing that this a type of heavenly good luck.

However, the pearl twists Kino’s mind. As a man tries to take Kino’s pearl one night, Kino fatally kills the man, resulting in him as a wanted man.

Juana, Kino, and the now healthy Coyotito, have to make a run for it. They take Kino’s canoe, cast it into the water, and quickly sail off. They arrive in a heavily wooded area, which provides shelters. But there are riders upon horses keeping a close eye on Kino and his family, trying to find him and execute him. Kino and his family find a water hole, where they stop to drink and rest.

Kino, Juana, and Coyotito then hide in the cave and wait for an opportunity to escape back down the mountain. The trackers are slow in their pursuit and finally arrive at the watering hole at dusk. They make camp nearby, and two of the trackers sleep while the third stands watch. Kino decides that he must attempt to attack them before the late moon rises. Just as Kino prepares to attack, Coyotito lets out a cry, waking the sleepers. When one of them fires his rifle in the direction of the cry, Kino makes his move, killing the trackers in a violent fury. In the aftermath, Kino slowly realizes that the rifle shot struck and killed his son in the cave.

The next day, Kino and Juana make their way back through town and the outlying brush houses. Juana carries her dead son slung over her shoulder. They walk all the way to the sea, as onlookers watch in silent fascination. At the shore, Kino pulls the pearl out of his clothing and takes one last, hard look at it. He remembers what this pearl has cost him, and the hard journey he has gone through because of it. Then, with all his might, under a setting sun, he flings the pearl back into the sea, watching it sink, sink, and sink deep below the surface, never to be seen again.

-Katherine L.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

One thought on “The Pearl by John Steinbeck

  1. I remember reading this two years ago! I didn’t expect much from a short story, but The Pearl was very well written.

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