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Free Study Guide-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online BookNotes
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Kino

Kino is at first characterized in very simple terms as a man of few wants; he is content with his family life, proud of his son and his heritage, and satisfied with his meager living that provides his basic needs. Because he is calm and peaceful, Kino lives in harmony with nature. He enjoys the simple things around him, including the sounds of the night, the movements of the ants, the splendor of the sea, his wife lying beside him on the cot, his child lying in the hammock, and the "little splash of morning waves on the beach." He and his wife have been together so long that words are unnecessary between them; they communicate their feelings with signs and music. Kino's music in the beginning is the "Song of Family." He is a picture of total contentment.

To provide for his family, Kino is a pearl-driver. He works hard each day, weighing himself down with a stone and repeatedly diving down to an oyster bed. He dreams about finding a large pearl, but is happy that he can provide food for his family through his efforts. He is also thankful to have a fine canoe to use in his work; it has been passed down from his grandfather to his father to him. Kino values the canoe as a tie to his past and as his "bulwark against starvation."

Kino, though a poor man, is extremely dignified. He is proud of his past, his wife, his son, his canoe, and his home. He is also aware of his place in society. He realizes that the "civilized" world of the people in town has no place for him since he is poor and uneducated. He wants to give his son the opportunity to enter this world and, thus, dreams of his son getting an education and learning to read. Kino cannot be married in the church because he cannot pay the priest properly. He cannot get medical help for Coyotito from the doctor in town because he is poor and cannot pay the medical fee. In frustration over his situation, Kino bangs on the doctor's gate and hurts his hand. Throughout the book, the injured hand serves as a reminder of Kino's place in the poor, native, lower class.


When Kino finds the greatest pearl in the world, he is unprepared to handle the jealousy and envy generated by his treasure. Kino has never possessed anything more valuable than his canoe; thus, he is naive about the reactions of other people to someone's wealth. He looks at the pearl and sees its rare beauty; he also sees it as a means of providing a proper wedding for Juana and himself and an education for his son. Other people see the pearl and selfishly want it to bring fortune their way. The priest sees the pearl as providing a means for getting the needed repairs for his church. As a result, the priest, filled with hypocrisy, goes to call on Kino. He tells Kino to thank the Lord for his treasure and to remember his duty to the church (the one that has refused to marry him and Juana). Then the doctor comes to call on Kino and now offers to treat Coyotito. In order to ingratiate himself to the owner of the pearl, he first gives the infant a "medicine" to make him appear sicker. Then the doctor returns and pretends to cure Coyotito. While at Kino's hut, he tells the Indian that he is worried about his safety and suggests that he keeps the pearl for him. Through these two visitors, Kino begins to understand the envy and evil that now surrounds him.

Next Kino must deal with the pearl buyers, who try to trick him out of the pearl. In a united front, they all tell him the pearl is worthless and offer Kino a ridiculously low sum. Kino bravely stands up against them breaking native tradition, and refuses their offer. Instead, he plans to leave the security of his home and go to the capital to sell his pearl. Before he can leave, he is attacked three times in the darkness of night and is forced to kill one of his attackers. His canoe is destroyed, and his hut is burned. In spite of these horrendous events, Kino refuses to part with the pearl. He still naively believes it is the answer to his dreams and the security for his family. When Juana tries to throw it back into the ocean, he wrestles the pearl away from her. In his rage against her actions, he also hits and kicks the woman that he loves. The pearl is obviously changing him.

When Kino leaves La Paz with Juana and Coyotito, he feels like a hunted animal. They travel in the darkness of night and leave false trails for the trackers who seek them. When the trackers finally close in, Kino decides to attack them. He stabs two of the men and fires a rifle at the third. Ironically, one of the stray bullets hits and kills his greatest treasure, his son Coyotito. Now Kino accepts that the pearl has produced only evil effects in his life, and he chooses to get rid of it. After returning to La Paz to bury his son, he and Juana go to the beach and fling the pearl back into the sea. While he possessed the "treasure," Kino lost the real treasures in his life, his peaceful lifestyle, his contentment, his appreciation of nature, his canoe, his hut, and his only son. It is no wonder that at the end of the book he stands as a bitter and defeated man who feels he has lost everything.

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