The Social Drama and The Characters in “The Pearl” By John Steinbeck
The characterization of Kino and Juana and the descriptions of styles used in “The Pearl”
Despite the different styles used in “The Pearl”, we can easily distinguish the main way to portray the most important themes. This novel is a classic social drama that has almost mythological symbolism in it. The cursed treasure themes in “The Pearl” send us right to the apocryphal stories of the ancient cultures.
Another powerful plot line in “The Pearl” is the theme of family. The very characters in “The Pearl”, though very stereotypical, shows us the vivid metaphor of humane values that are challenged by the enormous wealth and power this wealth gains. Let’s see how these plotlines progress throughout the story and figure out what is the theme of “The Pearl”.
The story starts in a way lots of myths do. A poor family of a pearl diver lives on the seashore. Kino, the pearl diver and Juana, his wife, are struggling to feed themselves and their infant son Coyotito. But despite their poverty they seem happy and content with their life. The first time we see Kino is when he is looking at his son, peacefully sleeping in his cradle. We know that Kino has to work very hard to feed his family, but still he finds time for this moment of tenderness and it is a powerful initial characterization of him.
Suddenly Kino sees a scorpio, climbing to the crib. He tries to take it away from his son and it is one of the most disturbing moments in the whole story – the little Coyotito shudders and the scorpio falls into the cradle, stinging the baby to the shoulder. Kino and Juana immediately take the kid and rush to the local doctor, pleading for help. But the doctor is greedy and cruel – he refuses to help, because the couple is too poor to pay for his services.
We see the doctor as one of the stereotypical characters in “The Pearl”, he can fit into any fairy tale – an evil and greedy man, who values money above anything else. He could help just out of compassion, he could work out a plan of payment or at least give the parents some advice about what to do with the scorpio sting – but he does nothing.
In despair, Kino and Juana return to the shore. Juana tries to ease the pain by treating her child’s wound with seaweed. Kino starts to dive, again and again, hoping to find enough pearls to pay to the doctor. Suddenly, he finds an enormous pearl, the biggest one he saw in his whole life.
Not only it allows them to pay for treatment, but even to move to the bigger house and start the new life. From now on the second main motif comes into play and we see how tightly are connected in “The Pearl” the theme of family values that deteriorate and the line of the cursed treasure that brings bad luck to anyone who touches it.
The rumors about the enormous pearl soon reach the town where the doctor lives. He, understanding that he can make profit out of desperately parents, hurries to their hut and immediately offers treatment, even for free, asking Kino to pay after he sells the pearl. Some of the neighbours pretend they are happy to hear the news about the family finding a treasure, but the truth is that everyone in the village is incredibly envious.
When everyone was equally poor, the pearl divers gladly helped each other, feeling compassion and understanding of the misery of others. But when Kino and Juana obtained the huge pearl, they immediately became severed from the community. In one moment the fellow neighbors turned into the outsiders.
Kino’s brother asks the family what they are going to do with their money. The dreams of the couple are still innocent – they want to have a real marriage, in the church, with feast and party, buy the fancy sailor costume for Coyotito and later send him to school. These are modest plans every normal family can associate themselves with. But still the answer only enlarges the abyss between Kino, Juana and the rest of the divers. The doctor, who pretends to treat Coyotito, tries to search the house to steal the pearl.
The local priest also comes to remind that the pearl is the sign of God’s mercy and Kino has to give most of the money to the church to thank Him for it. At night some thieves break into their hut and tries to steal the pearl. It seems no one more cares about the family – the pearl is the only thing that bothers the village.
Juana is the first one to understand the danger. She pleads Kino to get rid of it, but her husband says that it is their only chance to have a normal life. Kino promises her to sell the pearl tomorrow so that nothing will threaten their home. In the morning the pearl diver indeed goes to the town and tries to sell the pearl. All the pearl buyers offer the fair price of thousand pesos, but Kino considers that his pearl costs at least fifteen thousands. He is going to travel to the capital and sell it there. Here we can see as the cursed pearl theme progresses.
The treasure gradually drives Kino mad. Juana senses it and later in the night (after the family survives another attack of the thief) she again tries to persuade her husband to return the pearl to where it belongs. But Kino, so kind and compassionate before, gets incredibly angry and shouts at her that she is insulting his manhood, supposing he is a coward and so on. He isn’t able to see that Juana is simply scared because of the constant attacks and wants to save the lives of her family.
The culmination of the theme of family in “The Pearl” happens that very night. Desperate, Juana steals the pearl herself and goes to the shore to throw it away. Kino senses that and chases her to violently beat for such a “betrayal”.
We can’t see the loving father near the cradle anymore: now Kino is a madman, blinded by the wealth and pride. But he is not the only one who has gone mad. Some of the villagers, who watched their hut, followed him, and while Kino is busy beating his wife, they attack the couple, taking away the pearl.
The fight, now the real one, starts before the very eyes of Juana. The poor woman sees that her husband calmly slits the throat of one of the attackers and takes the pearl back. She persuades herself that it was just self-defence, but her attempts to prove it to herself are very vaguely plausible.
Now the couple has to run. They take Coyotito and rush to the boat, but the boat is damaged by the villagers. Kino and Juana have to go by foot. They run to the mountains, chased by the other villagers, who now want both pearl and revenge. Finally, when Juana is too exhausted to proceed, Kino hides her and Coyotito in the cave, takes the rifle and decides to face the trackers.
He takes cover near the cave and waits for the villagers to come. They do indeed come soon, attracted by the cry of the equally exhausted baby. Kino rushes to them and kills all the three. But when he returns to the cave, he encounters the most heartbreaking sight possible – his own son shot dead with his rifle. Finally the curse of the pearl is lifted from him, but for a horrible price.
Kino and Juana return to the village, not hiding anymore. Kino carries the pearl and his wife cradles the body of Coyotito. When they reach the seashore, Kino throws the pearl into the waves.
Throughout the story we see the two main motifs – the cursed pearl and the family themes constantly interchanging each other. The warm family moments: Kino looking at his son, the couple happy that Coyotito is healthy, Juana and the baby, sheltered in the cave with warmth and tenderness – are changed with the violent ones that show us the deadly influence of wealth to the average people.
We don’t know what happened to Kino and Juana after he threw the pearl away, but still, this bittersweet ending gives us hope that Kino learned his lesson and will never repeat his horrible mistake again.