La bataille

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Patrick Rambaud

1. Although Steinbeck introduces the novella as a parable in which all things may be identified as either good or evil, there is some ambiguity in The Pearl. How does this ambiguity set the stage for the battle between good and evil?

Ambiguity is manifested in the religious beliefs of Juana and Kino. As Mexican Indians, their cultural background is both pagan and Catholic. Thus, Juana will pray to Mary, the mother of God, while at the same time uttering magical spells that belong to her pagan heritage. Her Catholic religion should inform her that the gods of the pagans are devils, so it should be apparent that she prays to both God and to devils at the same time. Yet this teaching appears to be confused in her superstitious mind, perhaps because the priest shows little interest in his flock and has not spent much time catechizing them.

In Kino, this religious ambiguity also is suggested by his seeming reference to God or the gods. Unable to discern who it is that is governing the universe, Kino and his wife are therefore subject to the deceptive charms of evil, whether in the doctor or in the pearl. The fact that good and evil both seem to exist already in each of them is what makes it easy for the pearl’s evil to appear to be such a good to them both.

The uncertainty regarding truth and custom in both Kino and Juana leads them to fall for the trickery and novelty of the doctor (rather than to trust to their own remedies and the counsel of their neighbors). Their uncertainty also leads them to long for the pearl, though there is no need to seek it in the first place. However, because they lack awareness of the true nature of the doctor and the pearl, they are deceived into pursuing both.

2. It is never stated who the assassins, robbers, and trackers are. However, there are a number of characters in the novella who might have conspired with one or all of them. Which characters have motives for conspiring with the assassins, robbers, and trackers?

The doctor, the buyers, the priest, and almost anyone else in the town is a suspect. The doctor is a suspect first and foremost because he is revealed to be one who lusts after money; indeed, he only visits Kino once he discovers that Kino has found a great pearl. Furthermore, he is capable of trickery and deception, as is revealed by his lie about not being home when Kino asks for help, as well as by his trick of making the baby sick again so as only to “cure” it and give Kino a bill. Plus, when he questions Kino about the pearl, his eyes follow Kino’s, which move involuntarily to where he has buried it. It is also shown that when the doctor thinks of the pearl, he dreams of Paris and the luxuries that such a pearl could afford him. Thus, the doctor is a prime suspect among those who may be responsible for the attempts on Kino’s life and the robbery of the pearl.

However, the buyers may be just as suspicious. They work together to make unfair offers to Kino, and when he refuses to accept their offers they are left in fear of what their employer might say once he finds out that they have failed. Because they, too, are given to deception and trickery, it is not difficult to imagine that they might resort to violence and/or theft in order to get what they want.

Meanwhile, the priest shows signs of indifference to his role as shepherd to his flock. For example, he does not know whether he has baptized Coyotito or married Kino and Juana (he has not). He shows a lust for money, as well, when he reminds Kino to give thanks to God (presumably in the form of alms). Still, he shows no signs of deception or trickery—only pride and indifference—which may place him on the list of suspects, but not necessarily at the top.

Other characters in the town could also be considered suspects, including the beggars who see everything, the Chinese shopkeepers, and everyone else who hopes that the pearl might benefit them, as well. Essentially, the “Pearl of the World” inspires the worst in the townspeople because, unlike the Song of the Family, it is of the world and not of the spirit.

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