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Free Study Guide-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online BookNotes
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Chapter 4


At the beginning of this chapter, Kino decides to sell his pearl. By early morning, every individual in the town comes to know about his decision. The pearl buyers sit in their offices, anticipating the arrival of Kino. People, over their breakfast, imagine what they would have done if they had found the pearl.

Kino and Juana prepare themselves and Coyotito in their best finery (which is still shabby), for they feel this is a very important day, almost as important as the day Coyotito was born, and set out to sell their pearl. As usual, the entire neighborhood follows them in a procession. When Kino enters the office of the first pearl buyer, he is playing tricks with a coin, symbolic of his greedy trickery and dishonesty. He inspects the pearl, deems it worthless, and offers a thousand pesos for it. Kino is not discouraged. Then the pearl buyer calls in three other buyers. All the dealers declare the pearl to be worthless and hope that Kino will fall for their age- old ploy and sell it for a meager amount. To everyone's surprise, Kino refuses to give in and asserts that the pearl has great value. He then declares that he is going to the capital to sell his pearl.

Back home, Kino feels frustrated and isolated, for "He had lost one world and had not gained another." Kino is no longer comfortable with his simple, primitive world, for he dreams of wealth and an education for his son, things that will buy his way into the modern "civilized" world. Ironically, Kino is cautioned about this civilized world by Juan Tomas, his older brother, but Kino refuses to give in to fear. During the night, however, Kino is attacked for the second time. Juana again pleads to her husband to destroy the pearl, but Kino's will is hardened. He tells her that the next day he plans to go to the capital and sell the pearl.


In this chapter, Steinbeck, through the pearl buyers, criticizes any social system that preys upon the poor. The pearl buyers have organized themselves into a unit to cheat the poor Indians. They conspire together to buy their pearls at the lowest possible price. The Indians know what the pearl buyers are doing, but are helpless to fight against it. If they want to survive, they must accept the ridiculous offers of the evil, greedy dealers.

Even the knowledge of the evil ways of the pearl buyers does not daunt Kino's spirit. He dresses in his best rags and sets off to sell his pearl. As he and Juana walk towards town, there is an air of excitement among the townsfolk. Even the divers have not gone out this morning, for they too want to be present when Kino sells his pearl. (The pearl is obviously interrupting the normal lives of all the natives.) Each person thinks about what they would purchase if they had found the pearl. They also hope that Kino's sudden wealth will not change him, "not graft on to him the evil limbs of greed and hatred and coldness."

Kino's dealings with the pearl buyers portray the cold callousness of these businessmen who are only out to make large profits for themselves. Though Kino meets each dealer individually, all the pearl buyers have agreed on the ridiculously low price to offer Kino. Kino does not fall into their trap and refuses to sell the pearl, much to the surprise of his neighbors. Instead, Kino decides to go to the capital to sell his treasure. These decisions are significant ones for Kino. By defying the pearl buyers, he has defied the entire structure that the Indians have lived by; he has questioned their entire way of life. By deciding to travel to the capital, he is leaving his simple, primitive world farther behind. These are certainly monumental actions for Kino, yet he is willing to take risks in order to secure the future for his family and himself. His brother Juan knows that Kino has challenged the entire system of native life and fears his younger brother's well being. Kino himself refuses to give in to fear.

When Kino is attacked during the night for a second time, it becomes obvious that the pearl is endangering Kino's life. Although the individual assailant is not identified, the reader clearly understands the evil forces that are out to get Kino and his pearl.

Steinbeck, through the attackers, is again criticizing the social system of Kino's village very severely. It is a society that takes no pleasure in another man's fortune; instead, it puts obstacles and hazards in front of a person to make his path towards a bright future difficult.

For a second time, the wise Juana pleads with Kino to destroy the pearl; but her pleas are in vain. Kino has become fiercely determined to keep the pearl until he can sell it for a high price. He wants to prove to himself and Juana that the pearl is not evil, but a guarantee for a better life for them in the future. Unfortunately, the better life will not happen.

It is significant to notice the changed mood in the procession of the neighbors in this chapter. When they follow Kino to the doctor's house in an earlier chapter, there is a kind, sympathetic feeling throughout the group. In contrast, the procession in this chapter is no longer friendly. Since Kino has something of which the others are envious, their kindness has been replaced with jealousy and greed.

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