The Pearl

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

The value and evaluation of material entities is a central theme in The Pearl. The value of the pearl, for example, requires reassessment throughout the novel: at the moment of its discovery, it seems to be worth Coyotito’s life. That the pearl-dealers then so underestimate the price of the pearl reveals how distant the monetary worth of something can be from its perceived value, and how much value is determined by those in power. Moreover, the determination of the pearl’s value has little to do with anything inherent to the object itself. As the narrator describes, a pearl forms by a natural “accident”: “a grain of sand could lie in the folds of muscle and irritate the flesh until in self-protection the flesh coated the grain with a layer of smooth cement.”

Kino’s canoe, on the other hand, is described as the “one thing of value he owned in the world.” Kino prizes his canoe not as a possession but as a “source of food,” a tool that allows him to fish and dive for pearls. It seems, therefore, that Kino values things that can help him provide him for his family. Unlike the pearl, whose sole function is to be possessed and looked at and whose value is assigned (arbitrarily) by people in power, the canoe is valuable because of its functionality and tradition, and its association with the dignity of work.

The Pearl reveals the slipperiness of value and evaluation: often, value is assessed by those who are already wealthy and powerful. What is valuable to one man (the canoe to Kino) may not seem valuable to another. Moreover, wealth in the novel is, in fact, not a source of well being, but of bad fortune or malicious greed. In the end, what remains of value to Kino and Juana is immaterial and has no price: love and the family.

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Value and Wealth ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Pearl related to the theme of Value and Wealth.
Prologue Quotes

“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl—how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind…If this story is a parable, perhaps everyone takes his own meaning from it and reads his own life into it. In any case, they say in the town that…”

Related Characters: Kino, Juana, Coyotito
Related Symbols: The Pearl
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote appears as a prologue to the story. The quotation marks that bookend the quote suggest that it is one that is often spoken aloud in the telling of the proceeding story. Thus, the story of the "great pearl" has essentially become a parable, such as The Boy who Cried Wolf or The Tortoise and the Hare. Its perpetual telling is meant to teach the listener a lesson, based on the morals gleaned from the misfortunes of Kino, Juana, and Coyotito that befell them once the Great Pearl came into their lives. The lack of geographic specificity in regards to the "town" in which this story is told suggests that, in addition to becoming a vague kind of legend, the tale is passed along in various towns as a warning of the dangers of sudden fortune.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

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

It was the rifle that broke down the barriers. This was an impossibility, and if he could think of having a rifle whole horizons were burst and he could rush on. For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more.

Related Characters: Kino
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

The townspeople ask Kino what he will spend his fortune on once he has sold the pearl. He immediately replies that he and Juana will be married in the Church, and that Coyotito will have new clothes and go to school. In this quote, he also notes that he intends to buy a rifle, which is, to an extent, still viewed as an "impossibility" despite his impending riches. This is because rifles are a European invention, and therefore strictly associated with white colonizers, brutality, and forced submission of indigenous peoples. To have a rifle is for Kino to show the rich whites that fortune has made him their equal, and to show his fellow townspeople that he has risen above the circumstances from which his people have been forced. Yet, as the narrator cautions, even this rifle might not be enough for Kino, based on human nature's inherent dissatisfaction, which continues on even after one's dreams come true. Though his seemingly improbably wish to own a rifle and rise above his circumstances has suddenly been made feasible, Kino may buy one only to want bigger and shinier objects. When great riches fill vacancies in one's life, new vacancies appear.

But now, by saying what his future was going to be like, he had created it. A plan is a real thing, and things projected are experienced. A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities—never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked…He knew that the gods take their revenge on a man if he be successful through his own efforts. Consequently Kino was afraid of plans, but having made one, he could never destroy it.

Related Characters: Kino
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

When the townspeople ask Kino how he will spend his riches, he has not thought through his answers: for him and Juana to get married in the Church, for Coyotito to have new clothes and go to school, to buy a rifle for himself. But once he says these plans aloud, and he thinks of the beauty, curve, and size of the pearl, he realizes that these things may very well become a reality. However, the existence of these plans, and their sudden proximity to reality, also means that they are in danger of being attacked and the subject of revenge--just like Kino, now that he is in possession of the Pearl of the World. Knowing this, Kino has never before made such plans, but the Pearl and wealth give his future and imagination a flexibility they have never had before. Having felt the rush of wild dreams that are close to reality, Kino is determined to make these plans come true--but their reality also makes them vulnerable to attack.

Chapter 4 Quotes

All of the neighbors hoped that sudden wealth would not turn Kino’s head, would not make a rich man of him, would not graft onto him the evil limbs of greed and hatred and coldness. For Kino was a well-liked man; it would be a shame if the pearl destroyed him.

Related Characters: Kino
Related Symbols: The Pearl
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Still reeling from Kino's good fortune, the townspeople continue to gossip about how the riches will affect Kino and his family. In this quote, his neighbors note that they hope the sudden wealth will not change Kino into a greedy and cold man. The only very wealthy people that the townspeople know are white settlers, who cruelly treat the native people as inferiors. As the indigenous people have been subjugated into extreme poverty by the settlers, the luxury of the lives of white people is something that they aspire to, but also one that they abhor. Ironically, it is the townspeople that end up changing Kino, as much as the pearl itself changes him. Because Kino's former friends and peers constantly try to steal the pearl and attack Kino, he becomes paranoid and aggressive, eventually losing not only his potential for wealth and good fortune, but also his past innocence and happiness.

But there was no sign, no movement, the face did not change, but the secret hand behind the desk missed in its precision. The coin stumbled over a knuckle and slipped silently into the dealer’s lap.

Related Characters: The pearl-dealers
Related Symbols: The Pearl
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Knowing that holding onto the pearl makes him a target, Kino brings the pearl to a pearl-dealer the morning after he finds the precious jewel. Of course, the entire town finds out, and follows him to the office of the pearl-dealer. The narrator informs the reader that all the pearl-dealers secretly work for the same employer under a salary, so that there is no competition in prices. The townspeople, who make their living selling pearls, do not know that they have been cheated their entire lives. The pearl-dealer, having heard of Kino's great pearl, acts calm and collected when Kino arrives. He expertly plays with a coin that weaves through his knuckles as he speaks with Kino. In this quote, the pearl-dealer sees the pearl itself for the first time. Even though he keeps a calm face, the fact that he drops the coin means that he is shocked by what he sees. Kino has indeed found the pearl of the world--but the pearl-dealer, like everyone else in town, will attempt to cheat him out of the riches he is due.

Chapter 5 Quotes

The killing of a man was not so evil as the killing of a boat. For a boat does not have sons, and a boat cannot protect itself, and a wounded boat does not heal.

Related Symbols: Kino’s Canoe
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

After Kino kills the man, Juana and Kino know that they must leave town: now that Kino is in possession of the pearl that everyone wants, nobody will accept that the killing was committed in self-defense. Kino runs to his beloved canoe to prepare it for departure, and discovers that someone has broken a hole in it. In this quote, Kino is horrified to find his canoe broken. It is his prized possession, having been passed down to him by his father, and is the sole source of his livelihood. Though Kino has already been enraged by the attacks, this crime sparks an even deeper rage within the man, as evidenced by this passage, in which he declares the "value" of the canoe even greater than that of his own life. He feels that he and his family are at odds with the entire world, and feels as if it would have hurt less had he been murdered himself. Though Kino does not know who specifically broke his boat, it represents Kino's rejection by the entire town, further encouraging him to flee with the pearl, Juana, and the baby for their collective protection.

Chapter 6 Quotes

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.