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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online Plot Summary
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CHAPTER VI (continued)

Steinbeck ends the chapter with a description of the sad return of Kino and Juana to their native village. Not only do the old people who actually saw them return remember it, but also the younger ones whose fathers and grandfathers told them about it. The event truly involved everyone in the village of La Paz.

It is late afternoon when the couple returns to La Paz (ironically, La Paz is Spanish for peace). Walking side by side, Kino carries the rifle and Juana supports Coyotito's body in a bundle over her shoulder. Juana is "as remote and as removed as Heaven," while Kino is "as dangerous as a rising storm."

NOTE:

You will recall that, earlier in The Pearl, Juana walked behind her husband. Now they walk together, side by side. What do you see in this new sign of equality? Is it an indication that they are now removed from the old system that has oppressed them? Or is it a sign that they are no longer a part of their ancient Indian culture?

Kino and Juana walk through the town as if it weren't there. Passing the ruins of their burned hut, they proceed to the water, where Kino takes the pearl, looks into it, and sees evil faces peering at him. The pearl has become ugly, "like a malignant growth." Kino asks if Juana wants to throw it, but she tells him to do it. With that, he flings it into the Gulf, where it splashes in the distance, then drops to the bottom, its music fading away to nothing.

NOTE: SOME CONCLUSIONS

It is bitter irony that after all Kino suffers to keep the pearl, he throws it back into the ocean, where it is lost forever. How can we understand why Kino does this and what the meanings of this story of the poor fisherman might be?

Does Kino throw the pearl away because he feels guilty, as some readers suggest? If this is so, then Kino must feel that he has been greedy and that his greed has caused the death of Coyotito, all the other deaths, and much pain and suffering. The original version of the legend was clearly a warning about greed. Can you see a parallel warning in Kino's final gesture?


We know there is rage in Kino at the end, because Steinbeck uses images like "a rising storm," "a tower of fear," and "a battle cry" in his description of Kino's return. Do you think Kino throws the pearl away as a gesture of rage and disgust? Has he learned that Indians are not allowed to dream? Is the gesture a last protest against social oppression?

You might also conclude that Kino's new understanding stretches even further than the boundaries of his own social system. It was not only the pearl buyers and the doctor and the tracker with the horse who betrayed him. Indians also worked against him. (He had to beg his brother for one day's refuge!) It is possible that Kino at the end looks with disgust at humans in general, regardless of social position. From this point of view, the novel seems to be a depiction of the universal weakness and selfishness of people.

Still another conclusion is that Kino's tragedy was not so much a victory of evil over good as it was a natural phenomenon. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck has used biological comparisons to suggest that no event happens to an individual alone. The natural order-of ants, fish, scorpions, and men-is a predatory one, and Kino just happens to get caught in it. Kino's action might suggest that he is submitting to the inevitability of the natural (and social) order-to his fate.

There is no single answer. The meaning you take from this story of the fisherman and the pearl will depend on how you see Kino and on how you interpret the meaning of the pearl, on your own experiences, and on many other factors. Steinbeck does not point dramatically and conclusively to one interpretation. Some readers have seen this inconclusiveness as a weakness in the novel. Perhaps The Pearl is not conclusive, but it does serve as a kind of record of the conflicts experienced by people-conflicts within themselves and with the systems under which they live.

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