by John Steinbeck
If Kino is obsessed with being a man, he is equally obsessed with keeping Juana in her place as a woman. And Juana doesn’t seem to mind. She accepts that she is to be passive, submissive, and deferential. Yet, despite her passivity, Juana manages to function as a pillar of strength for her husband. Kino himself comments on her resolve, her ability to persevere without food or rest. She’s like the Super-Woman of submissive housewives.
Make that the extremely silent Super-Woman. Did you notice that Kino and Juana don’t really talk to each other that much? It can be a little off-putting – until we realize that these two communicate without having to speak. "There is not need for speech if it is only a habit anyway," the text tells us.
Even more amazing than her apparent telepathy is Juana’s incredibly nuanced understanding of her husband. Check out the passage in Chapter Five, right after Kino has beaten her: "This meant certain things to Juana. It meant that he was half insane and half god. It meant that Kino would drive his strength against a mountain and plunge his strength against the sea. Juana, in her woman's soul, knew that the mountain would stand while the man broke himself; that the sea would surge while the man drowned in it. And yet it was this thing that made him a man, half insane and half god." Juana knows that Kino is defined by his masculinity just as she is defined as a wife and mother.
After Coyotito dies, however, Juana and Kino seem to break away from these once-rigid roles. They walk back to La Paz side by side – not with Juana following behind, as was the case earlier. Kino even shows deference to his wife when he offers the pearl for her to throw away, although that’s probably just his way of apologizing for beating her up earlier. When Juana defers to Kino to get rid of the pearl, it’s likely her way of forgiving him – without insulting his masculinity.
Indeed, Juana does play the voice of reason throughout much of the novella. Her prediction that the pearl will destroy their family is of course quite accurate, and her careful advice to Kino (which he consistently ignores) becomes a routine gig in the text. So not only is she Super-Woman, she seems incredibly wise.
Or is she? As we discussed in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," the claim that the pearl is evil isn’t quite accurate. The pearl isn’t evil, only the greed of men that desire the pearl. In this way, Juana’s insistence that Kino throw away the pearl is misleading. Steinbeck calls Juana’s mind "unsubstantial." Look at the passage in Chapter Two just before Kino goes diving. Juana is busy worrying about Coyotito: "She had not prayed directly for the recovery of the baby – she had prayed that they might find a pearl with which to hire the doctor to cure the baby, for the minds of people are as unsubstantial as the mirage of the Gulf."
Whoa there. This is the first time Juana mistakes the pearl for something it is not. In her mind, pearl = recovery. The second mistake comes later, when she thinks that pearl = evil.