Study Guide

The Pearl Chapter 2

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 2

  • Now that we’ve met the people and started the storyline, Steinbeck figures he’ll tell us where all this is taking place.
  • The town is located on the beach of an estuary; canoes can be seen coming in from Nayarit, which means we’re in Mexico and probably near the tip of the Baja Peninsula.
  • Once again we see the area isn’t too densely populated, since wild pigs and dogs roam the beach looking for food.
  • It’s also very dreamlike, the narration tells us explicitly. (Just picture the "copper haze" over the water and the blinding reflection of the sun—this, we are told, is why the townspeople feel there is no certainty in seeing.)
  • Kino and Juana make their way with Coyotito down to Kino’s canoe, which is "the one thing of value he owned in the world." It’s old and once belonged to Kino’s grandfather.
  • Meanwhile, Coyotito is getting worse; the swelling from the sting has moved up from his shoulder and toward his face. Juana puts a poultice of seaweed over the wound, which is "probably better than the doctor could have done."
  • Juana prays silently that Kino will find a pearl in the water big enough to pay a doctor.
  • Once in the canoe, Kino paddles them out amongst the other pearlers already in the water.
  • The oyster bed below them is littered with cracked, opened shells, the pearls of which once made the King of Spain wealthy.
  • Pearls, we are told, are made when a grain of sand irritates the inside of the oyster; the oyster simply coats the foreign body with layer after layer, which over time builds up a pearl. Finding one is an accident, simply good luck from God.
  • Kino dives to the bottom with the help of a heavy rock. Once at the water’s bottom, he fills a basket with unopened oysters and while he works hears another song, this time "The Song of the Pearl That Might Be."
  • Kino is skilled and can stay under water for two minutes, expertly choosing the best oysters.
  • And then… he sees one huge oyster, slightly opened, alone on an overhang. The oyster is opened ever-so-slightly, and Kino sees something gleam inside it.
  • Grabbing this shell and his basket, Kino kicks for the surface.
  • Juana senses his excitement and so looks away; expecting too much might drive away the luck.
  • Kino doesn’t want to start with the big Papa Bear Oyster, but after opening one pithy pair of shells with his knife he looks at it again.
  • Now he starts to doubt; maybe he only saw the gleam of the shell’s iridescent interior; after all, "in this gulf of uncertain light there were more illusions than realities."
  • Juana tells Kino, in her own gentle way, to open the big oyster already.
  • Kino does, and in case the cover of your book or the blurb on the back hasn’t already informed you, inside is the greatest pearl ever, the supermodel of all pearls, the big cheese, the pearl we’ve all been waiting for. It’s as big as a sea-gull’s egg.
  • Juana draws Kino’s attention to Coyotito; the swelling has gone down and it looks like the poison is leaving his body.
  • Kino howls emotionally, which leads to all the other canoers paddling over to his boat. Probably not the greatest move when you’ve got the world’s most valuable pearl in your hand.

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