His obsession with the pearl is prompted by his desire for respect and power, but most importantly for the education of his child. He wants to be able to marry Juana, to buy a rifle that can “[break] down the barriers,” to dress his family in nice clothes, and finally to enable his son to free himself and his people from subjugation. Kino’s fierce desire to provide for and protect his family reduces him to a primal state. Ironically that desire to provide for them causes him to viciously attack Juana. Later, after he kills his attacker, the narrator concludes that Kino is “an animal now, for hiding, for attacking, and he lived only to preserve himself and his family.” This primal nature enables him to escape his trackers, at least initially. The narrator notes that “some ancient thing stirred in Kino. . . . some animal thing was moving in him so that he was cautious and wary and dangerous.”
At the end of the story, he appears broken as he retains his primal state. He, along with Juana, appears “removed from human experience.” He “carried fear with him” and “he was as dangerous as a rising storm.” The story has been applauded as a parable that warns of the effects of greed. A parable is a story that is chiefly intended to convey a moral or truth. After Kino finds the pearl, he learns how far others will go, including committing murder, to gain wealth and the power that it brings. All those who hear about the pearl, even his neighbors “suddenly became related to [it], and [it] went into the dreams, the speculations, the schemes, the plans, the futures, the wishes, the needs, the lusts, the hungers, of everyone.” And since Kino stood in their way, “he became curiously every man’s enemy.” Kino recognizes this desire in himself, not for wealth, but for the power the pearl can grant him. He says the pearl is his soul.
Environmental and Biological Determinism
Steinbeck incorporates naturalistic elements in the story through his focus on environmental and biological determinism. Determinism is a way of understanding what causes humans to experience what they do. The assumption is that there are forces (such as race, economic class, environment, and chance) at work that determine the outcome of human events, regardless of human intention and effort to shape events otherwise. Kino’s fate is sealed by these forces, which prevent him from escaping the limitations of his world. The most obvious determinants are his social and economic status.
Kino knows that “other forces were set up to destroy” his plan to provide his family with an opportunity to escape oppression. He believes though that these forces are created by the gods, who “do not love men’s plans,” who “do not love success unless it comes by accident,” and who “take their revenge on a man if he be successful through his own efforts.” This deterministic view maintains that the individual is powerless to shape his circumstances or to rise above them. Perhaps it is the gods or fate but some arbitrary force beyond the self controls everything.
Since Kino is an Indian and has no education, he does not know how to fight against the ruling class who exploit him in an effort to keep him in his place. He cannot read the medicine packet that the doctor uses to “treat” Coyotito, he does not have the knowledge to judge the real value of the pearl, and he does not know how to find someone who will give him a fair price. He is poor because he is a member of an oppressed race, and so he must live in dangerous conditions where scorpions can pose a risk.
Another dangerous and immediate environmental factor is posed by the greedy men who want to steal his pearl. Kino is almost killed by these attackers until he kills one in self defense. Their greed illustrates the biological forces with which Kino must also grapple.
At least initially, both Kino and Juana are committed to their dreams. Juana becomes “a lioness” when her baby is stung by the scorpion, which ironically triggers the path to his destruction. Her fierce sense of protection prompts her to convince Kino to go to the doctor and later to find the biggest pearl he can catch so that they will have the money to cure their child.
After Kino finds the pearl, his own biology takes over as he becomes filled with a hatred that “raged and flamed in back of his eyes, and fear too, for the hundreds of years of subjugation were cut deep in him.” That rage, coupled with his own instinct to provide the best for his family, urges him on even as murderers wait outside his brush house to attack him. These urges become obsessions as his brain “burns” in dreams of his son’s future. Even after Juana warns him of the dangers of keeping the pearl, Kino insists he will not give it up, claiming “this is our one chance. . . . Our son must go to school. He must break out of the pot that holds us in.” His obsession with the pearl prompts him to violently attack Juana when she tries to throw it back into the sea. His brain, “red hot with anger,” reverts to a primal state as he punches and kicks her with “his teeth bared” and hissing “like a snake.” These dual forces, Kino’s environment and his own biology conspire against him: his burning desire for a better life for his family and the oppression of the ruling class that forces him into subjugation ultimately shape his destiny.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, John Steinbeck, Published by Gale Group, 2010