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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online Plot Summary
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CHAPTER VI

The moment has come for Kino and his family to leave their village in search of their dream. This chapter can best be understood when divided into three parts: the flight, the confrontation with the trackers, and the return.

Kino and Juana flee toward Loreto, the city where "the miraculous Virgin has her station." They make certain, however, not to be seen in the town of La Paz where, two days earlier, they had led a procession to the doctor's house. There is a strong wind this night as the couple go "out into the world." (These words may remind you of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament Book of Genesis.) Kino is grateful for the wind because it means the blowing sand will cover their tracks.

The flight has stirred something primitive and basic in Kino, as if part of his ancient Indian heritage has reawakened in him. His survival instinct (akin to animal instinct) has been revived, and he is wary of attackers.

Hour after hour the march proceeds until at last they come upon a road with deeply cut wheel tracks. Since the wind has died down, they decide to walk in the tracks as an added safety measure. A wagon cutting through the sand will easily erase their footsteps. Though the evils of the night are all around them, Kino hears the music of the pearl in his head. The screeching owls and laughing coyotes do not trouble him, since he has the knife for protection.

NOTE:

Kino and Juana's march to Loreto resembles a pilgrimage to a religious shrine. In fact, Steinbeck notes that Loreto is the city where the Virgin Mary "has her station." Kino's passion for the pearl approaches an almost religious fervor. You've seen earlier that Kino and Juana combine ancient Indian and Catholic prayers, that they refer to God and the gods. Has the religion of the pearl taken over from both these sets of belief? Have all Kino's gods abandoned him, or is it the other way around?

At dawn, after walking all night, they find a little hiding spot in a clearing near the road. Juana settles in to feed Coyotito while Kino returns to the road to sweep away their footprints. Before long, a cart creeks along the path, wiping out all the tracks. Relieved, Kino returns to Juana and shares some corncakes with her. While eating, Kino spots a little column of ants near his foot; he puts his foot in their way and watches them climb over it. Recall that in Chapter I, Kino did not interfere with the ants, despite his God-like position. Now he makes the ants climb over his foot, a difficult task for an ant. Is Steinbeck commenting on God's indifference to human struggle? Would God create an obstacle as carelessly as Kino puts his foot in the ants' path?

It is hot and they are far from the Gulf. Kino shows Juana the poisonous trees and bushes to avoid. In the midst of these warnings, Juana asks if they are being followed. Kino knows that this will happen and that it will prove the pearl's worth. He looks into the pearl for his former vision of the future but sees only pictures of the past-the dead man, Juana's beaten face, and the baby's illness. In an effort to blot out these images, Kino asserts that their son will have a fine education. Yet all he sees is Coyotito's face, "thick and feverish from medicine." Alarmed by the vision, Kino hears the music of evil intermingled with that of the pearl.

NOTE: KINO'S VISIONS

Throughout the novel, Kino has seen visions in the pearl. In keeping with a cinematic technique, Steinbeck has used the pearl as a sort of mirror in which Kino sees visual reflections of his mind. When he is excited about the future, the vision shows his church wedding, fine clothes, and Coyotito going to school. Now that he is a pursued animal, Kino's visions show only the dark, frightening aspects of life. What role do these visions play on the symbolic level of the story?


Kino falls asleep. Steinbeck then describes the impassive Juana, sitting with the flies buzzing around her facial cuts and bruises, watching Coyotito until his innocent playing makes her smile and respond.

The two of them together make clear the difficulty of their own and their people's position. The Indians have little choice. If they submit meekly to oppression, they will be allowed to live as we see Juana living. They will be beaten any time they try to change things. But they will also be allowed a measure of innocent contentment as long as they do not peer into the future. (Do you remember how happy Kino was on that first morning? Juana is also happy watching the innocence of the baby.) If they do not submit, they will be crushed.

Kino sits up suddenly and whispers to Juana to be silent. He hears something and feels for his knife. In the distance, he sees two men on foot and one on horseback. They are trackers in search of the pearl, and Kino knows they will persist until the find him. He fears that careless footprints will reveal his whereabouts and that even his sweeping the footprints might give him away. Kino is now a hunted man.

NOTE:

Steinbeck is a master of suspense. One of his strengths as a novelist is the ability to keep the story moving. Even with its many descriptions, The Pearl maintains a rapid pace. As it moves to a conclusion, you can almost feel Kino and Juana running.

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