The Pearl

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Themes and Colors
Community Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Race, Tradition, and Oppression Theme Icon
Value and Wealth Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Pearl, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Nature Theme Icon

Nature is a powerful force in The Pearl. Natural elements often serve to instigate crucial plot-points. Sometimes they protect (as in the plants that keep Juana and Kino temporarily hidden from the trackers) and feed (as in the fire that cooks the corncakes); while at other times, they destroy (as in the scorpion that poisons Coyotito and the fire that burns down Kino’s house). And throughout the novel, Kino is described as being, like his ancestors, intimately connected with nature. He is said to have “the deep participation with all things, the gift he had from his people. He heard every little sound of the gathering night, the sleepy complaint of settling birds…and the simple hiss of distance.”

Though powerful, however, nature’s force is essentially neutral, despite the meaning that mankind, here Kino and Juana, confer upon it. As described above, the pearl in itself is worthless—a mere cement-wrapped grain of sand—but, in the course of the novel, it represents for Kino and Juana first prosperity and hope, and then evil and despair. In attributing the pearl such meaning, Kino drifts away from his practice of “deep participation with all things” and into a system of valuation that is not his own, and that ultimately ends up backfiring. Finally, ridding himself of the pearl and all of the significance it’s been overlaid with, Kino is free to return to his truly meaningful, ancestral relationship with nature.

Nature ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Nature appears in each chapter of The Pearl. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Nature Quotes in The Pearl

Below you will find the important quotes in The Pearl related to the theme of Nature.
Chapter 2 Quotes

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. Now he came to the canoe and touched the bow tenderly as he always did.

Related Characters: Kino
Related Symbols: Kino’s Canoe
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

As Kino has no money for which to pay for the doctor's treatments, he is turned away from the doctor's house. In desperation, he decides to try his hand at finding a valuable pearl to sell to raise money for Coyotito's medical treatment. In this quote, the narrator shows how much pride and care Kino takes in his canoe. It is a priceless heirloom passed down from his father, and it is the sole source of his livelihood. In coating it with a "hard-shell like plaster," Kino takes care of his canoe in the same matter that a pearl is made (a pearl is created when a grain of sand enters an oyster, and it coats it in a smooth covering to avoid irritation). Kino's canoe represents his indelible connection to his ancestry, to the pearls in the ocean, and his pride in how he provides and cares for Juana and Coyotito. In touching the bow "tenderly," Kino greets his canoe, personifying it to the point that he provides the object with the same respect that he would a person that he cares for. Without the canoe--a representation of his genealogy, and how he feeds himself and his family--Kino would not be alive.

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She gathered some brown seaweed and made a flat damp poultice of it, and this she applied to the baby’s swollen shoulder, which was as good a remedy as any and probably better than the doctor could have done. But the remedy lacked his authority because it was simple and didn’t cost anything.

Related Characters: Juana, Coyotito, The doctor
Related Symbols: The Scorpion
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Having been turned away from the doctor's home, Juana creates a poultice from seaweed to soothe the baby's sting. In this quote, the narrator notes that while this remedy is likely just as effective as the doctor's treatment would have been, Juana views it as unsatisfactory because it was hastily created by her and not by an expensive white doctor with a degree. This point of view represents the influence that colonization has had on the indigenous people in La Paz. Though Juana and Kino's people have been living in the region for thousands of years, the sudden influx and brutality of Europeans with rifles forced them to become second-class citizens. European dominance has meant that luxuries such as schools and advanced medical care are too expensive for the subjugated natives to afford. Since Kino and Juana want absolutely the best for their son, they are determined to have him treated by a rich white doctor, whose people have thrived, albeit through cruel practices, in the region. By contrast, Juana's people have been murdered and subjugated, and thus internalized a sense of weakness that she associates with her poultice, regardless of how effective it is. She wants Coyotito to be healed by a doctor whose wealth and skin color are a kind of proof of strength and dominance.

In the surface of the great pearl he could see dream forms. He picked the pearl from the dying flesh and held it in his palm, and he turned it over and saw that its curve was perfect.

Related Characters: Kino
Related Symbols: The Pearl
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

In diving to search for oysters, Kino sees a large one separated from the clusters of oysters. He is drawn to it for its singularity and a glimmer between its lips, which hints to a pearl within. When he brings it back to the canoe, he opens the oyster with bated breath and is shocked to find a massive pearl inside. In this quote, Kino pries the pearl from the dying oyster and suddenly realizes that it could be his ticket to great wealth. As Kino has lived in poverty his entire life, he believes that all his dreams can come true with a fortune such as this. Since much of the livelihood of the people in the region come from selling pearls, finding such a perfect one in his time of need seems to be a sign that he is destined to do great things. Unfortunately, it turns out that the opposite is the case--nature is uncaring for human fate, and value and "luck" are often determined by corrupt people in power.

Chapter 3 Quotes

The essence of pearl mixed with the essence of men and a curious dark residue was precipitated. Every man suddenly became related to Kino’s pearl, and Kino’s pearl went into the dreams, the speculations, the schemes…of everyone, and only one person stood in the way and that was Kino, so that he became curiously every man’s enemy.

Related Characters: Kino
Related Symbols: The Pearl
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In the small town, word travels fast, and it is not long until all of the townspeople hear of Kino's pearl. As many of these people earn their living selling pearls from oysters at the bottom of the ocean, they are shocked that it was Kino, a normal man, who has found the "pearl of the world." Immediately, everyone imagines what they would do if they were in possession of such riches--or what they would like to do with Kino's imminent wealth. As the narrator notes, Kino immediately becomes everyone's "enemy"--why was he the one chosen to find such a fortune among a town of pearl divers? Those who wish that they themselves had found the pearl become irrationally angry and jealous that Kino has something they desire. Contrary to the beautiful sheen that coats a pearl and makes it so precious, the town is coated in a "curious dark residue" that makes the previously close, supportive community now envious and vengeful. Without realizing what he has done, Kino is suddenly the target of every man's jealousy and desire, simply because he possesses the pearl.

Chapter 6 Quotes

And Kino ran for the high place, as nearly all animals do when they are pursued.

Related Characters: Kino
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

With his boat broken, Kino and Juana must escape on foot. They soon hear horses, and realize that they are being followed by skilled trackers. Kino instinctively pulls his family towards the mountains for safety, as this quote notes, "as nearly all animals do when they are pursued." This is the second time in the story that Kino has been compared to an animal, the first time being when the doctor cruelly refers to the native people as animals. In this instance, it symbolizes two things: the first being the basic, animalistic instincts that all humans have to protect themselves when in danger. By heading to a high place, Kino knows that it will take the trackers longer to reach him, particularly on horseback. Second, the narrator may be echoing the thoughts that the trackers, likely white settlers, might have while analyzing the trail. Like the doctor, they may have racist, superior views towards indigenous people in which they do not equate their own intelligences with those of the natives. Similarly, this may just be Steinbeck himself writing his native character as an "other," one who is sympathetic but who is also described with animalistic, simplified language.

The people say that the two seemed to be removed from human experience; that they had gone through pain and had come out on the other side; that there was almost a magical protection about them.

Related Characters: Kino, Juana
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

As Juana and Kino walk back into the town, they seem changed in a way that the observers cannot quite put their fingers on. In this quote, the narrator of the story--which has now changed from the story of Kino and Juana to the parable of the Pearl, told by future generations--notes that the pair seems to have transcended their tragedy to the point that they, like the pearl did at first, seem to be coated in magic. It is implied that this "magical protection" protects the couple from the potential implications of Kino's murder, but more profoundly it's suggested that all the pain they have suffered has hardened them--in the future they might experience the usual bad luck of life, but they are now separate from emotion and normal human experience.

And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped toward the bottom. The waving branches of the algae called to it and beckoned to it.

Related Symbols: The Pearl
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Kino offers Juana the pearl to throw back into the ocean, but she urges her husband to do it instead. He tosses the pearl back where he found it, and in this quote, it settles among the algae at the bottom of the sea. The personification of the "waving branches" and the calling and beckoning of the algae suggests that the pearl is a part of some kind of intelligent sea system that has known the pearl would eventually be returned to it (presumably after wreaking havoc among the world of humankind). This ending is rather ominous in one sense, but it also shows how arbitrary are human ideas of value and beauty. The pearl first appeared as lovely and priceless, then in the eyes of the corrupt pearl-dealers its value was lowered as a means of oppression, and then it became a kind of curse and hideous object when it led to so much death and destruction for the family. Now that it has been returned to its natural environment, however, the pearl once again resumes a kind of innocence--something unconcerned with human fate or desires, something beautiful in itself but no more "valuable" than the algae that embraces it.