Study Guide

The Pearl Chapter 1

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 1

  • The story starts off with Kino waking in the dark of very early morning.
  • There are roosters and pigs outside, and he lives in a brush house, so we know we’re dealing with someplace rural.
  • Kino looks over at Juana, his wife, and his son Coyotito who is sleeping in a hanging box.
  • Juana is awake, as per usual. She never sleeps while Kino is awake.
  • He closes his eyes and listens to the sound (he calls it a "song") of the waves on the beach outside (more setting clues).
  • Actually, he calls it "the Song of the Family," since he knows his people have been hearing it for many generations back (he’s a native).
  • Juana gets up and goes to check on their son and makes corncakes on a grinding stone while Kino heads outside and watches the dawn.
  • As a dog curls up near Kino, we are told that "It was a morning like other mornings and yet perfect among mornings."
  • He listens to his wife singing and thinks that too is part of the family song; that it is warm and safe and whole.
  • Kino and his wife have breakfast together without talking; not because there’s latent hostility or dissatisfaction; rather, they don’t need speech to communicate.
  • And then… something happens. Both Kino and Juana see a scorpion on the hanging cradle and freeze in place.
  • Kino then "hears" another "song," this time "the Song of Evil."
  • Juana mumbles protective chants under her breath.
  • Kino, meanwhile, decides that action would be better than no action. He moves silently across the room and reaches his hand ever-so-gently toward the scorpion.
  • The scorpion, being a creature of acutely sensitive hearing, raises its very poisonous tail in caution.
  • Then, Coyotito, being a baby who has absolutely no idea what’s going on, shakes the cradle, dropping the scorpion inside.
  • Kino grabs the creature and mashes it to a paste, but not before it strikes Coyotito.
  • Juana takes the screaming baby and tries to suck out the poison; Kino feels helpless.
  • Meanwhile the screaming alerts the neighbors, Juan Tomás and "his fat wife Apolonia" and their four children.
  • Everyone realizes the baby may die.
  • Kino takes a moment to marvel at how strong his wife is, since she can withstand pain and starvation as well (or better) than any man. At the moment, though, she tells him to go get a doctor.
  • The spectators all whisper about how the doctor will never come out here to the poor people and their brush houses, since he attends to the rich folk in the plaster abodes in town.
  • Juana, afraid they are right, decides that they should go to the doctor instead. The spectators follow.
  • The people in town add to the mix, so now the poor trio has a grand following as they make their way to the doctor’s house.
  • The beggars in particular watch the scene; they know everything, the narration tells us, since they watch the townspeople going into confession and can read their sins on their faces.
  • The beggars also know how cruel the doctor is, which doesn’t bode well for the sick baby.
  • Kino hesitates, reflecting that the doctor’s race has been robbing and despising his own race for hundreds of years. He tries to control his anger at such unfair treatment while knocking on the door.
  • When a servant opens the gate, Kino delivers the news "in the old language." The servant, however, refuses to answer in the same dialect.
  • We cut to the doctor, who is appropriately sitting in bed in his gown of "red watered silk that had come from Paris" and drinking from a cup of eggshell china in a silver tray.
  • And he has religious paintings around his room.
  • When the servant comes in with the news of a "little Indian baby" stung by a scorpion, the doctor responds that he’s not a veterinary and therefore doesn’t cure Indians. Ugh, what a racist.
  • But he does ask if they have any money.
  • The servant goes back to inquire about the cash situation; Kino pulls out eight small, misshapen pearls that are "nearly valueless."
  • The servant takes the pearls, goes inside, returns and gives them back, and reports that the doctor is out, which isn’t even a good lie.
  • The crowd feels the wave of shame passing over Kino and leaves; Kino stands at the gate long after until, in anger, he strikes it with his fist and splits his knuckles open.

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