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.
Value and Wealth ThemeTracker
Value and Wealth Quotes in The Pearl
“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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.