Accident Nocturne

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Patrick Modiano

1. “And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.”

This quote comes from the brief prologue, or the author’s epigraph, to the tale. It both introduces the novella and sets the tone and parameters of its moral dimensions. By likening the tale to a parable in which all persons, things, and actions can be reduced to good or evil, Steinbeck announces the allegorical nature of the tale and how it may be read. That is to say, the characters and types may be construed as symbols, and the actions may be viewed as having moral consequences.

2. “In his mind a new song had come, the Song of Evil, the music of the enemy, of any foe of the family, a savage, secret, dangerous melody, and underneath, the Song of the Family cried plaintively.”

It is with this song, which accompanies the appearance of the scorpion and the endangerment of the baby, that Kino begins his battle with evil both without and within himself. The evil in the world is admitted through the threat of the scorpion, but it is personified by the doctor, and then expanded by the pearl, until it is exposed in Kino, too. Throughout his battle with evil, Kino tries to reassert and hold onto the Song of the Family, but as he himself succumbs to the Song of Evil, he sacrifices his family to hold onto the pearl and the dreams it inspires.

3. “And every year Kino refinished his canoe with the hard shell-like plaster by the secret method that had also come to him from his father.”

Here it is shown that Kino belongs to an ancient custom and tradition, preserved through practice and the maintenance of his inheritance. His canoe, the symbol of his livelihood and his past, is preserved by a tried-and-true exercise of refinishing it with plaster, the secret of which belongs to the village. Holding onto these secrets and keeping the canoe intact is what allows Kino to support his family. However, when Kino tries to support his family by chasing the dreams that the pearl promises, his livelihood is destroyed by enemies.

4. “Kino had found the Pearl of the World.”

The line is both ironic and revelatory. It is ironic in the sense that the true pearl most dear to Kino is his family and home—Juana, Coyotito, and his simple way of life. Yet, when he finds the pearl, suddenly none of it is good enough. His son must be educated; his wife must have the best dress, and he must have a rifle. The pearl is, in other words, nothing but a temptation towards worldliness. Thus, when Steinbeck calls it the “Pearl of the World,” he is also revealing the fact that the pearl is not what it seems, but is actually a dangerous symbol of the World, which in the terms of a parable is synonymous with sin.

5. “In Kino’s ears the Song of the Family was as fierce as a cry. He was immune and terrible, and his song had become a battle cry.”

This line appears at the end of the novella, after Coyotito has been killed and Kino has finally accepted the true nature of the pearl and what it represents. Although he has lost part of his family, Kino is now stronger in the sense that his Song of the Family has taken such deep root inside of him. No longer merely in his mind and in his ears, it has now buried itself so deeply within him that when it comes out, it comes out with all the guttural force of a cry. In fact, it is now prepared to fight off all evil—it will no longer be seduced by dreams. The song is now a battle cry, a battle song. Kino has fallen, but his fall has not been without a new understanding of himself and the world in which he lives. He returns home, poorer and sadder, but also harder and stronger spiritually. In other words, he has been forged by fire.

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