Purpose of Juana in The Pearl

Based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl, written by John Steinbeck, centers around the story of Kino, a poverty-stricken Mexican pearl diver who struggles to provide for his family. One fateful day, his young son Coyotito is stung by a scorpion. In desperation, Kino returns to the ocean to find a pearl valuable enough to pay a doctor. The pearl he finds is the size of a seagull’s egg, enough to pay the doctor and much more. With the pearl comes hope, the promise of a new life, and the ability to rise above poverty. However, the pearl only serves to create a vicious circle of cruelty, greed, and corruption within Kino’s own village. He, his wife Juana, and Coyotito are forced to flee, resulting in even greater tragedy. In the end, Kino looks at the pearl and sees nothing but death, horror, and evil. He flings it back into the ocean, left with nothing but anger and grief.
Perhaps one of the most important characters in this book is Kino’s wife, Juana. Despite her quiet and almost vague demeanor, it is Juana who predicts the tragic turn of events before they happen. It is Juana who senses the evil song of the pearl, and attempts to drown it out with love. In her own way, it is Juana who is the tragic heroine. When Kino first comes to her with the pearl, Juana is overjoyed, sharing her husband’s dreams of leaving behind poverty and oppression. However, Juana is more and more assured that the pearl is a symbol of evil, not hope.
One of the most obvious questions raised by the reader is why Juana allows her husband to keep the pearl. Why does she not voice her opinions more openly? From the beginning, it is clear that Juana is much more practical and cautious than her husband. As in many Hispanic cultures, Juana looks on her husband as the ultimate authority, one that should only be questioned under extreme duress. In addition, she loves Kino and trusts him. Juana pushes aside her own instincts to trust those of her husband:

“Juana watched him [Kino] with worry, but she knew him and she knew she could help him best by being silent and by being near. And as though she too could hear the Song of Evil, she fought it, singing softly the melody of the family, of the safety and warmth and wholeness of the family. She held Coyotito in her arms and sang the song to him, to keep the evil out, and her voice was brave against the threat of the dark music.”

Despite having little education, Juana is not an ignorant woman, possessing more common sense than the resourceful Kino. In reality, Juana attempts to resist her husband’s wishes, even trying to throw the pearl back into the ocean, only to be beaten by her husband. Most importantly, Juana realizes that they are extremely poor, and will very likely stay that way, even with the pearl. It sounds crue l, but she knew the limitations of their society. She knows that poor Mexican pearl divers cannot find such a precious and rare pearl and expect to keep it, at least not without a fight.

Unlike Kino, Juana recognizes that their place in society is unchanging. She believes that things will go much smoother if Kino stays the same, if her family stays the same. She would rather protect what little they have than give it all away on a whim. Juana knows that if the pearl proves to be as evil as it seems, she, Kino, and Coyotito will lose everything. In the end, Kino does lose everything that he has worked so hard to obtain. Ultimately, he is cut off from his family, utterly blind, and completely guilty.

Juana accepts her fate with quiet solemnity. She forgives Kino for the death of their son, and is the same, quiet, submissive wife she has always been. The book ends too abruptly to ascertain anything deeper than this from her manner. She is heartbroken, but suffers stoically, never crying or voicing emotion. In a way, this silence is tragic. Neither Kino nor Juana can grieve for very long, it will only make matters worse. They have to keep20on living, taking and using what little the earth has given them. Juana’s only satisfaction is watching the pearl, a symbol of such evil, be thrown away:

“Kino and Juana watched it go, winking and glimmering under the setting sun. They saw the little splash in the distance, and they stood side by side watching the place for a long time.

And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped toward the bottom….A crab scampering over thee bottom raised a little cloud of sand, and when it settled the pearl was gone.

And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared.”

The Pearl is a tragic example of how greed and recklessness destroy a family, and almost an entire livelihood. Although Kino himself is not greedy, he refuses to listen to the wisdom of his wife, Juana. If he had, there would have been little or no trouble; their son’s death could be avoided. Kino trusts the pearl more than he trusts his wife. Strangely, the pearl’s evil is seen only by Juana, the one person who rejects her husband’s idea of riches and glory. –Julia

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