Summary of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl

The Pearl is a novella by the American author John Steinbeck.

Kino is a poor Indian fisherman who lives on the Gulf of California. Other members of his family are his wife Juana and infant son Coyotito. They live in a simple hut which is made of brush. The couple sleeps on mats thrown on the dirt floor, while Coyotito sleeps in a hanging box. All the poor people in their village including Kino’s family depend on nature for survival. Though Kino is poor, he is happy, honest, and diligent.

As the novella begins, dawn is breaking. Kino watches the sun rise and listens to the sounds of the morning. In his mind, Kino hears the Song of the Family. This song of the family is an internal message that suggests all is well.

But very soon, a dangerous situation occurs when a poisonous scorpion stings Coyotito. His screams draw people from all over the village. Juana insists to call the doctor, but he does not treat the Indians because he is of Spanish descent and considers himself above treating poor Indians. This is therefore Juana announces that if the doctor will not come to their village, they will go to the doctor’s house. Her decision and spirit of independence amazes the villagers who accompany them to the wealthy doctor’s home. But the doctor refuses to treat Coyotito because Kino is too poor. Kino is so angry that he smashes his fist against the doctor’s gate.

Later that day while Kino with his wife is fishing in the Gulf, he finds an enormous pearl. He believes that the pearl will make him rich and ensure the security for his family. Everything turns against his wish and the pearl stirs envy in the villagers. Consequently, on the same night Kino is attacked in his hut by a thief. Out of fear of losing the pearl, on the following day, he tries to sell the pearl to buyers in town, but the buyers offer a small sum of money for it. The buyers know the pearl is worth a fortune but want to buy it cheaply so that they may earn a lot out of it.

In his anger, Kino announces that he will sell it in the city where he will get a fair price. This amazes the villagers because Kino has never traveled so far. After dark that evening, Kino is attacked again. Juana is sure that it is the pearl that is evil. She is afraid that it may destroy the family. During the night, she quietly removes it from the hidden spot and tries to throw it back into the ocean. He stops her before she succeeds and beats her for it. As he returns to the hut, Kino is attacked again by two men. He kills one, and the other succeeds to escape. Because of the murder he has committed, Kino knows that he will be hunted as a murderer. As a result, he and Juana must leave the village immediately. Before they can escape, however, their canoe is destroyed and their hut is burned. They hide until the next night in the hut of Kino’s brother, Juan Tomas. The following evening, Kino and Juana begin their flight to the capital. Soon they realize they are being pursued by three people. Therefore they flee up the mountain and hide in a small cave. Their pursuers pitch camp in a clearing just below the cave. Kino decides the only way to survive is for him to kill the person on guard, take his rifle, and kill the other two, who are sleeping.

Kino goes to the pursuers’ camp and is about to attack them when his infant son Coyotito cries out. Kino knows that he must spring immediately at his enemies, but he is a moment too late and one of them shoots toward the cave. There is a struggle and Kino kills all three of his enemies. The earlier shot has, however, killed Coyotito.

The following afternoon the villagers witness the return of Kino and Juana, carrying the rifle and their dead child. Silently, they walk through the village to the shore. Kino lays down the rifle, takes out the pearl, and throws it into the water.

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