Revisiting the Columbus-like template of colonial subjugation of indigenous populations, The Pearl by John Steinbeck takes the form of a parable which follows the seemingly idyllic family life of Kino, his wife Juana and their infant son, Coyotito.
However, the harmony of the “Song of the Family” is soon discordant as Kino, in his brush hut, watches as a scorpion crawls down the rope that holds the hanging basket where Coyotito lies. He is powerless to stop it from stinging the baby. Kino is rendered more powerless still as his few ugly seed pearls as “dull and grey as little ulcers” are rejected as payment by the Spanish doctor in town.
Kino dives from his canoe, hoping to discover something of value he can sell to pay for the doctor. He finds an ancient oyster which yields an immense pearl, “The Pearl of the World.”
It is with a certain foreboding that we approach Chapter Four . . .
Students chose a new perspective from which to tell the events in Chapter One, where our protagonists, Kino and Juana, travel from their village into the city of “stone and plaster” to try to get help for their child . . .
The Servant by Mina Aronczyk
I open the grand door just a few inches. It seems like the whole town had gathered outside the gate of the doctor’s luxurious house. A man and his wife (both natives, my people) stand at the front of the crowd and speak to me first. The man says that his child has been bitten by a scorpion, and that they request the doctor’s services. I know from experience that scorpions could most definitely kill a baby as small as the one the woman cradles in her arms. As much as I want to speak in my native language, the doctor forbids me to, so I speak in broken Spanish. I tell them to wait just a minute, I need to inform the doctor of the situation. At least, I think that’s what I say.
I wait in the doorway of the doctor’s room, I don’t dare to interrupt his eating. He is dressed in fine clothes, a red silk dressing gown, and has a silver tray with a chocolate pot and sweet biscuits in his lap. He doesn’t leave the house nearly as much as he used to, and the dressing gown which was previously too big is now stretched tightly over his growing stomach. When he finally takes notice of my appearance, which takes a minute or two, he asks me what I’m there for without any interest. I retell the situation, and he slowly turns red in response. “Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for ‘little Indians’? I am a doctor, not a veterinary.” I grit my teeth and respond with as little emotion as I can muster. He goes into a short rant about how he is tired of his clients not having money. I clench my fists.
When I am at the gate once again I speak to the poor man and his family in the old language, screw the doctor. I ask them if they have any money at all, and the man slowly reaches into his blanket and pulls out a small piece of folded paper. He takes his time unfolding it, inside it lay 8 ugly pearls, if you could even call them that. I dutifully take the paper with the valueless pearls, and walk back to the house. I know the doctor’s answer already, it is not enough. Nevertheless, I ask the doctor if the small pearls could count as payment, and he takes one look at them and lifts his nose. Without saying a word, I return to the gate and reluctantly hand back the misshapen pearls. I quickly mutter a bad excuse, feeling terrible about the whole ordeal. After all, my sister died of a scorpion bite.
The Seed Pearls by David Belikoff
I couldn’t stop rattling in Kino’s hot, dry, pocket. There was one last final swing and everything went quiet. A ray of sun flowed through the small hole in the pocket. A big knock rang in the gate up front. it squeaked open. the deep voice of Kino argued with the unanimous man behind the gate. after a minute of talking the gate shuttered loudly. The calm serene sounds of the birds chirping played nicely to my ears. the wooden gate squealed one last time. The same unanimous man asked a question. I couldn’t really make out what he said but a second later, a large rusty hand and scooped me up. the exposed sunlight of the plaster city baked me. I got dropped in the oily, fresh hand of the guy who was in the beautiful array of flowers behind the gate. He turned around and started walking. The clutch of his hand squeezed me and everything went black.
The Dead Wife’s Photograph by Arden Burkett
I’m the never-forgotten photo that remains in the chamber. I was once a wife, but I’m now passed. My last nights alive were cold and lonely. My husband never really loved me, he saw another mistress, so I’m no special lady to him. Nowadays, he gobbles down his food like a disgusting pig as he listens to these poor peoples’ problems. I’m quite disappointed at this point. He was once an amazing man who had everything. We lived in Paris for a bit and I believed our lives were forever going to be perfect. Life has changed and memories are forgotten, but I still stand for myself even though I’m a lifeless photograph that stays on his wall. People come and leave in the chamber nowadays. Some are crying and are suffering– my ex husband was their last hope obviously. Some are pleading and are desperate, but of course nevertheless Abraham continues to shove his meals down his throat even though his food is clearly too large. Today, a small family came in, a poor upset father who was quite frustrated and worried protective mother with a baby.
A Beggar on the Church Steps by Isabelle Smith
Sitting on the church steps ALL day long gets really boring. So we entertain ourselves by listening to people, and knowing all the things going on. I know all the town drama. I know the people that go in and out of the church, and all of their sins that they confess to the priest. It’s normal to see me and the other beggars sitting on the steps and eavesdropping. But today, we weren’t on the steps. It was a calm day for drama, Mass was over. Not much was going on. Then, two young people with a baby came rushing, a whole crowd following them. Their clothes were ragged and ugly. They obviously didn’t have much money. What were they doing here? I have to know, so I followed them, just like everyone else was doing. They approached the doctor and knocked on the door. The man spoke in a foreign language to the assistant. The assistant didn’t speak in this language, and instead responded in Spanish. He said “A little.” He had awful Spanish. He disappeared back into the building. He returned a few minutes later, asking the man if he had any money. The woman looked worried. She was holding the screaming baby. Her hair was braided and out of her face. Maybe it would look better if it was cleaned. The baby was wrapped in her shawl, as they obviously were too poor to afford clothes for it. The man handed him a few measly seed pearls. I scoffed. He really thought that would be enough for a doctor’s visit. The stupid assistant took the seed pearls and brought them inside. A few seconds later he reappeared and handed the man the seed pearls. After the assistant shut the door on the man, everyone walked away in defeat. I backed away a little, but I was still able to see and hear him. The woman looked defeated,too, and hugged the baby tighter. The man stood for awhile, then out of nowhere just punched the gate. I jumped back. He was obviously angry. He had some anger issues. He put his hat back on which he had taken off, and walked away, blood dripping from his hands. He needed to get a hold of himself, for his wife and the child, otherwise that baby won’t have a good life. But what do I care? I have to spread the word about this family. I have a feeling that there will be more drama with them, very soon.
The Blue Shawl by Marley Kim
We arrive at the place they have been talking about- the doctor’s office. Coyotito fusses next to me. I try to wrap closer around him, anything to ease him. Juana brings me closer. She holds and whispers to him. Her eyes look lost in worry. The woman I’ve known for years is wearing a face I’ve never seen before, like a piece of glass, fragile but with harm, she will drop and break. Kino’s face clouds over with anger and frightfulness. The group of people who have crowded around whisper amongst themselves. They act worried for Coyotito but as soon as they forget, it will only be our problem. A man of the same people as Juana and Kino meets them at the gate. His face seems surprised to see the same society of himself. Kino begins to speak in the language, “The little one has been poisoned by a scorpion” but the man refuses to reply. Coyotito begins to grow even more sick but the men waste their time with their useless conversing. The man finally returns inside to inform the doctor.
The sun glares over us while Coyotito’s cries get louder. Kino and Juana have crossed thoughts, “What can I do?” but they have no solution. I see the recurring uncertainty, they can’t do anything and have no money to pay the doctor. I wrap around Coyotito again, steadying him. All of us are helpless. “Do you have a source of payment?” he asks when he comes to the gate. But the upturned smile and wide eyes on his face already knows the answer. Kino takes out the paper he has been saving for this, unfolds it, and pulls out the valueless pearls. His hands shake as he passes them in between the crescents of the gate. The man looks at it, frowns and passes it back. “The doctor has gone out” he says as he turns around and scurries back inside. The people start to clear out. It is now our problem. “What will we do?” I whisper, but my words have no sound, as they never do and Kino and Juana stand, helpless.
The Bird by Simona Heifez
It was a sunny day. I was perched on a branch, just sitting and humming the tune of happiness. It seemed like quite the normal morning. The village is just starting to whistle with the first noises of morning. I smile and look down, but then I see something bad. A scorpion has climbed through the entryway of one of the homes. I fly over into the doorway and I notice it climb up the wall and into a newborn baby’s hanging box. I cry for help, as I know that these scorpions are evil, as I had interacted with one once. My brother, was stung in the wing by one, and as he screamed in agony, the scorpion waded away cackling. I knew that this baby’s fate was lying on me. I call for help to my flock, but it was too late. I watch in horror as the scorpion stings the baby’s shoulder, and as it’s life ended at the hands of the attempted but failed savior. I watch as the whole house and town start to fall apart for this baby. I feel bad, and then my friends come. They asked me what happened, but I couldn’t say. It was just too close to home for me. I notice that they start to walk away. Maybe, if I fly after them, I can save the baby! And then I glide after them.
I land on a branch above where the people and the baby had stopped. There was a lot of pounding and interacting between this man, and the people. I was not close enough to hear what happened, but I know it was nothing good, as I saw the savior man punch a gate, blood pooling down his hands.
Kino by Selena Ma
Different emotions were going through me, but my hatred for the doctor was significant. As soon as the large gate opened a bit I managed to see a garden and a small fountain beyond it. Then, I saw a man of my own race. Working for the doctor? “The little one–the first-born– has been poisoned by the scorpion, he requires the skill of the healer.” I said, in the old language.
The gate closed slightly. “A little moment, I go to inform myself.” the man said. He closed the gate, sliding the bolt to lock it.
I was a bit confused. Why did he close the gate slightly after I expressed my need for the doctor? Why did he speak differently, not in the old language? I could only stand in front of the gate, waiting with the blazing sun for the doctor to lend my family help. Soon enough the gate opened slightly, once more.
“Have you money to pay for the treatment?” The same man asked, but speaking the old language this time.
I reached under my blanket, taking out an old paper covering eight small deformed seed pearls. They were not pretty, and probably not worth much. It was all I had though, thus I handed the seed pearls and the paper to the man. One more, the gate closed and then opened– not completely– and what I gave was returned. Maybe what I had wasn’t enough– but then that would mean that my family would not get any help.
“The doctor has gone out, he was called to a serious case.” and then the gate closed quickly.
I put my hat back on, fury spreading within me. Then I punched the gate, hard enough that blood was traveling between my fingers. I was frustrated. Had my family come this way for nothing! My son’s life is on the risk and this doctor is out on a case!? That scoundrel of a doctor wouldn’t have accepted what I had anyway!
Apolonia, Juan Tomas’ Wife by Daniel Rodionov
I am standing in the crowd with my husband, Juan Tomas. I feel so bad for Coyotito, he looks really hurt. Ugh, Kino is so annoying. He is such a disappointment. If I was his wife I would force him to become a normal person. Why would he take his time mashing up the scorpion when he could have done something to make Coyotito’s wound better? He just has mental problems.
Then suddenly I hear the gate open quickly, Kino starts talking to the person there about Coyotito’s wound, and that he needs help. I can’t see the person, but I can hear his and Kino’s conversation. They are talking about how Coyotito needs help, and the person says that he will go ask the doctor. The gate closes loudly. Then the same person comes back and says that the doctor wants them to pay him something. The crowd grows silent. We have no money, how is Kino going to pay for the cure? What if Coyotito doesn’t get better and dies? Then Kino pulls out a dirty folded up piece of paper, he unwraps it slowly; it was so crusty and old. Inside are 7 or 8 dirty, ugly, colorless pearls. He hands it to “the doorman.” The doorman showed it to the doctor, I think, but then he comes right back and hands them to Kino. I feel Kino’s sadness, he has nothing else, he can’t do anything at all. Then, he smashes the gate, his knuckles splashed with blood, and pain. He screams and screams. Then, everyone turns around and starts heading home except for Juana, Kino, and poor Coyotito. Kino just made everyone lose their hope for him. Once he felt less angry, he starts walking, Juana following with Coyotito in her blue shawl. I also start walking. But, I’m not in the shape for this, my stomach jiggling, but what can I do? I can’t let down my husband’s brother. We get back to our small village, however you call it, and everyone says goodbye to Kino and Juana. We all leave and go into our separate huts.
The Gate by Daria Golitsyna
Sometimes I really hate myself. Like the days when I shut out and block the most innocent and those in need. I am a barrier, that can open, but doesn’t. A crowd is standing around me. A woman is holding a child in her arms. The man who controls me moved me to see them. I screeched, like usual, because it was a fashion for me, being un-oiled and rusting. It turned out that the baby needed quick care or it would face … death. It is a bit awkward how humans don’t rust, I am trying to get how it works for them. Sometimes, I adore my existence. I am the thing that blocks a monster and terrible person from society. The doctor performs really badly, and nobody can do anything about it since he was the only one in town. The doorman closed me, and went to the doctor. I knew that the young family would get rejected. When the doorman came out asking for money, the little grains of what seemed to be pearls were so small I could barely see them! The doorman came back almost five seconds later and moved me out just a tiny bit. What uselessness! The crowd left. The family was left alone there. I looked the pearl diver in the eyes, and I saw hate. Ouch. He punched me.