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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online Plot Summary
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CHAPTER IV

This is the day Kino will sell the pearl. Everyone in La Paz is aware of Kino's plans and will take part in the ritual. Juana wears her wedding skirt and dresses Coyotito in baptismal clothes. Kino steps out of his hut and heads up the procession, accompanied by his brother, Juan Tomas. Though Juana walks behind her husband, there will be a time when she breaks custom and walks together with him.

Juan Tomas warns Kino to beware of the pearl buyers. They are cheats, he says, and will try to fool him about the price. He reminds Kino of the time some men in the village wanted to obtain more money for their pearls by pooling them and sending an Indian agent to the capital to sell them. Twice they tried it, but on both occasions the agents disappeared. Do you think the agents ran off with the money, or were they perhaps robbed and killed?

The brothers talk about the annual sermon that the priest delivers on this incident. He insists it's a message from God that each person is meant to maintain his or her position in life, whatever it might be: "Each man and woman is like a soldier sent by God to guard some part of the castle of the Universe."

NOTE:

When you consider the source of this sermon-the priest-you may conclude that it's a story he uses to manipulate the Indians. There is a strong political and social component-God wants you to stay in your place-and the Indians are expected to obey. It is very possible that Steinbeck wants you to regard the sermon in the same light as the doctor's remedies. Do you think Kino and Juan Tomas believe the priest's message?

The brothers squint their eyes and tighten their lips in preparation for the pearl buyers. The people in the procession know that this is an important day, and they follow Kino's lead.

In the meantime, the pearl buyers sit at their desks, excited about the much-discussed pearl. One of them, a fat, plodding man, plays disappearing tricks with a coin while waiting. The symbolic disappearance of the coin foreshadows the episode that follows.

When Kino arrives, the villagers wait outside while he shows one of the buyers his pearl. The pearl buyers have already conspired how to handle the buying of the pearl. With a look of sadness and contempt for the poor man who doesn't know the value of things, one of the buyers tells Kino that the pearl, like fool's gold, is only a curiosity. He offers Kino a thousand pesos, but Kino knows it is worth fifty thousand.

Kino, growing "tight and hard," feels the circling of vultures and wolves. He hears the music of the enemy and knows that he is being cheated. As if to confirm his price, the pearl buyer sends for the other buyers, claiming that they know nothing of his offer. The first man refuses to do business because the pearl is a "monstrosity." The second dealer says it is soft, chalky, and worthless. The third offers five hundred pesos.

Disgusted, Kino withdraws his pearl and says he'll sell it in the capital. The men, realizing they have not fooled Kino, promptly offer fifteen hundred pesos. They know that they will be punished by their boss if they don't purchase the pearl. But Kino understands their scheme and decides to leave.

That evening, the villagers discuss Kino's decision. Some support him; others think he was wrong. Kino, however, is terrified of what he has done. He feels he has "lost one world and [has] not gained another." What do you think this means? Kino knows more about the world than he did a few days earlier. Though he is vulnerable, he must harden himself to the attacks that await him. His instinctual awareness of this causes him anxiety, as does the idea of leaving the village of his birth.


Juan Tomas sees that Kino is treading on new ground without knowing the way. He says that, in the capital, Kino will be among strangers and will be leaving behind his friends and family. (If you have been looking for the symbolic meaning of the characters, look carefully at Juan Tomas here. Do you see why some readers think he represents the traditional Indian ways?) Only Juana seems to be on Kino's side, even though the pearl frightens her.

Later on, Kino is restless and goes for a walk. Sensing danger, he feels for his knife. Juana hears a scuffle and puts the baby down to look for a rock in order to come to Kino's aid. By the time she reaches Kino, his clothes have been torn apart by an attacker looking for the pearl. He is half conscious, his cheek slashed.

Juana cleans the wound, then pleads with Kino to throw the pearl away. Kino can only repeat his dream, as if repetition will make it come true. He asks Juana to believe in him ("I am a man"), then promises they will leave for the capital in the morning.

NOTE:

You might be wondering about the relationship between Kino and Juana at this point. It is clear that Kino has deep love and respect for his wife. She is warm and loving and also strong and secure. Yet within the social structure of their society, the male is the absolute head of the family. Do you think Kino is comfortable as the decision maker? Or would he prefer to share responsibility equally with Juana? He seems obsessed with his dream and, for the moment, won't let anyone, including Juana, challenge it.

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