OK, we’ll admit that this sounds like conflict. And in a way, yes, it is conflict – it’s just not the conflict of the novel. Instead, it sets up the circumstances in which the real conflict – Kino’s discovery of the pearl – occurs. Because of the scorpion sting, that event is couched in urgency and desperation – the conditions set by our initial situation. The doctor being a jerk sets up some of the themes and tension of the novel, as well as establishing what is essentially the initial situation of Kino’s emotional state (namely, gate-punching anger).
You’d think this would be the climax, but the discovery of the pearl instead throws a giant wrench into Kino’s life. He can now dream big – which is great – but everyone in his town is also dreaming big – which is not so great. The townspeople are all ready to do anything to get their hands on the pearl, which spells C-O-N-F-L-I-C-T to us.
That went downhill fast. What should have been a joyous, celebratory time is quickly corrupted by greed and evil.
As climactic as watching Kino triumph over the trackers is, it’s a bittersweet moment. He doesn’t have a house or a canoe, and he’s on the run. As much as we may cheer for his attack moves, and as much as we identify this as the climax of the novel, it’s definitely tinged with some darker undertones.
Steinbeck doesn’t explain what this "cry of death" means, which means that he leaves us in suspense until the…
Now that we know that the "cry of death" from the cave was Juana mourning for the death of Coyotito, the suspense is over.
Kino and Juana come to a tacit agreement (well, Kino is finally convinced) that the pearl is evil. He throws it out of their lives and we assume they go back to being poor, minus a canoe, house, and their son.