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Free Study Guide-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online BookNotes
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Chapter 2


The second chapter opens with a description of the natural world that Kino inhabits. There are crabs, lobsters, eels, sea horses, and poison fish in the gulf waters. Pigs and dogs wander on the beach in search of food. It is a world resplendent in beauty; but it is also an environment where only the fittest survive.

After leaving the doctor's house, Kino and Juana walk slowly to the beach. Kino strokes his canoe, which is his symbol of security. The canoe has been passed down from his grandfather to his father before him, and it provides him the means of supporting his family. It is his most prized possession. Juana places Coyotito on a blanket in the canoe. She then wades into the water, gathers some brown seaweed, makes a damp poultice from it, and applies it to the baby's shoulder. Then, Kino and Juana slide the canoe into the water and paddle to an oyster bed. Kino, who is weighted down with a stone, starts diving in search of pearls. Kino selects a few large shells. He then notices a very large oyster, which, before it closes down, reveals a pale, ghostly gleam. Kino picks it up and surfaces. In Juana's presence, he opens the smaller oysters before opening the large one. As he pries open the large oyster, he finds inside a great pearl, "perfect as the moon, as big as a seagull's egg." Its iridescence, shape, size, and sheer beauty make both Kino and Juana hold their breaths. They know it is the most perfect pearl in the world. At the same moment, Juana looks at the baby and notices that the swelling has subsided. Kino's emotions overflow; he lets out a joyous shout, which makes the other pearl divers race towards him.


In this chapter, the Gulf is described in all its might and splendor. "The uncertain air that magnified some things and blotted out others hung over the whole Gulf." As a pearl diver, Kino knows the power of the ocean; he respects and admires this watery environment that provides his living. He views it dreamily and with imagination. As soon as he returns from the doctor, Kino, with Juana and Coyotito still with him, heads to the beach, launches his canoe, and begins to dive. He has already lost precious time, and the other pearl divers are already hard at their work.

Just as Kino respects the gulf, he also respects his canoe. It is inherited property, a tie to his family and his past; it also provides a source of food, for a man with a boat "can guarantee a woman that she will eat something". Kino takes particular care of his boat, replastering it by the secret method that his father has taught him. There is obviously much family pride in Kino.

It is also obvious that Kino and his family are natural people, in tune with the gifts that nature provides. Juana uses an age-old, natural technique of applying a poultice to curb the swelling on her baby's shoulder. Although it is a primitive treatment, it makes a difference, for the swelling begins to subside. Deprived of the modern conveniences enjoyed by the people in the town, both Juana and Kino have learned to make use of the things around them; they have both become resourceful.

As Kino dives, in search of pearls, another ancient song is introduced; it is "The Song of the Pearl That Might Be," which is a song of hope about finding the pearl that would positively and permanently change the life of the diver. As the song passes through Kino's head, he dreams about receiving proper medical help for his son and providing him a good education.

The seabed is described with great detail. There are gray oysters "with ruffles like skirts" and barnacle-crusted oysters. It is a rich bed, teeming with life. In fact, this bed made the king of Spain a great power in Europe. The treasures taken from this bed had helped him pay for wars and churches. Kino now dreams about the bed also making him rich. He would like to find a big pearl, which would be "a little pat on the back by God" for his hard work.

Kino retrieves several small oysters before spying a giant one that seems to have a pearl inside. When he surfaces with his catch, Kino, with Juana watching, opens the little oysters first, making certain he does not anger the gods by seeming over eager. As he finally pries open the large oyster, the couple spies the treasure inside. The pearl is so marvelous that it inspires reverence. It is "the great pearl, perfect as the moon . . . It captured the light and refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence". As Kino admires his treasure, the secret melody of the pearl breaks out, "clear and beautiful, rich and warm and lovely, glowing and gloating and triumphant". Looking at the pearl's surface, Kino can almost see his hopes, his dreams, and his aspirations before him. As a result, his emotions overflow, and he shouts with joy. The pearl seems to be an answer to his prayers; ironically, the pearl becomes a force of evil that destroys his happy family life and pleasant natural existence. In Kino's battered and callused hand, symbolic of the simple, natural life; the pearl is lovely and a force for good; the civilized world, however, will only be able to see it materialistically. To foreshadow the disasters that later await him, the chapter ends with the other pearl divers closing in on Kino to see what has caused him to scream.

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