Kino awakes in the early dawn and his wife, Juana, is awake beside him. He cannot remember waking when Juana wasn’t already awake and looking at him. He hears the waves lapping the shore and feels the music of his life within him. The sounds of his world are songs that have existed in his people for hundreds of years, and among those ancient songs in Kino’s head are his own songs, the Song of Family and the Song of the Pearl that Might Be. As Juana fixes breakfast for her husband, he stands at the door and looks out into the dawning morning. The motion of Juana’s cooking and the sounds of her work inside the house make up the Song of Family for Kino. Behind him, he hears the creaking rope as Juana takes their baby, Coyotito, from the hanging box he sleeps in and wraps him in her shawl to carry him close to her breast. The sounds are so familiar to Kino that he doesn’t even have to look to know what is happening. As Juana works, she hums an ancient song, and this melody is also part of the Song of Family along with every other sound of their home. That is the song that constantly plays in Kino’s head. “Sometimes it rose to an aching chord that caught the throat, saying this is safety, this is warmth, this is the Whole.” Chapter 1, pg. 4
Kino is young and strong, and this is the only life he has ever known. Juana finishes cooking his breakfast and he squats by the fire to eat it. Their food is simple, as is their home and their life together. They don’t speak because they have been together long enough that there is no need for words. She understands his sighs of satisfaction and that replaces conversation.
Kino notices a tiny movement on the rope over Coyotito’s hanging box. A scorpion works its way down the rope toward the baby and the Song of Evil drums in Kino’s ears. Juana whispers ancient magic and Hail Marys to ward off the evil as Kino moves toward the box to grab the scorpion. Just before he can get to the scorpion, Coyotito shakes the rope and the scorpion falls onto his shoulder and stings him. Juana tries to suck the poison out of the baby’s shoulder while Kino pounds the scorpion to dust on the dirt floor of their hut.
The neighbors come to Kino’s hut because they hear Coyotito’s cries. Juan Tomas, Kino’s brother, and Apolonia, Kino’s sister-in-law, are the first to the hut to see what the fuss is about. With the neighbors gathered round, Juana demands that someone go get the doctor from town to see to Coyotito. Knowing that the sting will make an adult very sick, the possibility that Coyotito could die from the sting is very real. But the doctor will not come, so Kino and Juana, hearing the Song of Family in their ears, go to him.
Their neighbors follow them into the city, and along the way to the doctor’s house. At the gates of the doctor’s lavish home, with its garden fountains and caged birds, Kino feels “rage and terror” Chapter 1, pg. 12 because he knows that the doctor is not of his race. The doctor is of the race that has beaten, cheated, and starved Kino’s people for four hundred years, so although Kino and Juana need the doctor’s help for Coyotito, the doctor is still the enemy, and the Song of Evil pounds in Kino’s head again.
The fat, wealthy doctor sits in his house dreaming of his days in Paris, when he led what he considered a civilized life — keeping a mistress and eating in restaurants. When his servant comes to tell him that one of the Indians needs treatment for his son’s scorpion sting, the doctor refuses because he knows the Indians are poor. He will not help them if they cannot pay, and he knows without asking that they can’t pay him. Kino has only a few seed pearls worth very little, and that will not pay the doctor’s fee, so the servant closes the gates in Kino’s face. The neighbors leave so that Kino can suffer his humiliation alone. In anger and frustration, Kino hits his fist against the iron gate and splits his knuckles.
Get the Novel here: The Pearl by John Steinbeck