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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online Plot Summary
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CHAPTER I (continued)

The villagers, amazed by this decision, follow Juana and Kino to the doctor's house, passing the four beggars who gather in front of the church. Steinbeck uses the beggars to illustrate the doctor's character: "They knew his ignorance, his cruelty, his avarice, his appetites, his sins. They knew his clumsy abortions and the little brown pennies he gave sparingly for alms." Through this unspoken knowledge about the doctor, you come to see the class struggle that is part of the lives of the members of Kino's tribe.

Everyone suspects the doctor will not treat Coyotito. But the parents must try anyway. In his rage, Kino pounds against the doctor's gate with the iron ring knocker. His thoughts about the doctor are described in the language of oppression: weakness, fear, anger, rage, and terror. The pounding of the music of the enemy mixes with the sound of the iron ring pounding at the doctor's gate.

The servant who answers the call is an Indian like Kino, yet he will not speak to Kino in his own language. He makes it clear that Kino must wait for an answer outside the bolted gate.

NOTE: ON LANGUAGE

Language is used here as a sign of class distinction. When the Indian servant says, "A little moment," Steinbeck is implying that he is speaking Spanish-un momentito. The -ito ending gives a noun the meaning of "small" or "tiny." The baby's name, Coyotito, means "a little coyote." When the servant refuses to speak in the Indian language, he is reminding Kino of his lowly place. The incident also shows that people of Spanish descent set Indians against each other.

The doctor's home, elegantly decadent, represents "the other world" and is contrasted with the primitive Indian huts. The doctor, dressed in a silk dressing gown (robe) that barely covers his fat belly, sips chocolate clumsily from a delicate china cup. He has the trappings of the rich, whereas you have seen that Kino eats corncake in the dirt, near a fire, wrapped in an old blanket. By now, you have probably noticed the tone of a parable, which is designed to teach a simple moral lesson. What message is Steinbeck communicating in this contrast between the doctor and the Indians?

As expected, the doctor, claiming that he is not a veterinarian, refuses to treat Coyotito. A wave of shame engulfs the people who witness Kino's humiliation. Kino stands at the gate for a long time, then angrily punches it. He stares at his bloody knuckles, a symbol of the struggle between people of Spanish background and Indians. The doctor's insulting refusal shocks Kino into realizing that something drastic must happen if he is to provide for his son's future. It's not that Kino or his family must "change," but that they must find some way of exerting control over their environment. Do you think that Kino is a victim of fate? Are there changes he could have made to improve his life?


NOTE: NATURE VS. CIVILIZATION

Steinbeck uses nature imagery to contrast the Indians with the "civilized" life of the town. The doctor, who represents those who control the village, lives in a large home of stone and plaster, while Kino and the other Indians live in an impoverished neighborhood of small brush huts with dirt floors. Whereas the doctor drinks chocolate from a silver pot, Kino drinks pulque (a fermented drink made from a flowering plant) from an earthen jug, squatting on the dirt. The doctor sleeps in a plush bed, but Kino and his wife sleep on simple mats thrown on the ground. Yet the doctor's house is gloomy and dark, whereas Kino's hut is right on the beautiful Gulf of California. The doctor is frustrated and greedy; Kino is happy and content. The doctor has money; Kino has none. The doctor is agitated; the Indians are in tune with nature. The doctor is "refined"; the Indians have the simple, instinctual ways of animals. ("All the doctor's race spoke to all of Kino's race as though they were simple animals.")

What does this contrast tell you? One idea to think about is that the further one moves away from nature, the more "unnatural" one becomes. And with this move toward a culture based on money, one grows more discontent with life, more restricted and tense. The birds at the Gulf fly free, while the doctor's bird is caged. Kino is at peace when the novel begins. But he is soon thrown into conflict when he leaves nature in pursuit of money and civilization. This conflict will persist until he returns to his natural habitat.

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