Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideasexplored in a literary work.

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Greed as a Destructive Force

As Kino seeks to gain wealth and status through the pearl,he transforms from a happy, contented father to a savage criminal,demonstrating the way ambition and greed destroy innocence. Kino’s desireto acquire wealth perverts the pearl’s natural beauty and good luck,transforming it from a symbol of hope to a symbol of human destruction.Furthermore, Kino’s greed leads him to behave violently toward hiswife; it also leads to his son’s death and ultimately to Kino’sdetachment from his cultural tradition and his society. Kino’s peopleseem poised for a similar destruction, as the materialism inherentin colonial capitalism implants a love of profit into the simplepiety of the native people.

The Roles of Fate and Agency in Shaping Human Life

The Pearl portrays two contrasting forcesthat shape human life and determine individual destiny. The novelladepicts a world in which, for the most part, humans shape theirown destinies. They provide for themselves, follow their own desires,and make their own plans. At the same time, forces beyond humancontrol, such as chance, accident, and the gods, can sweep in atany moment and, for good or ill, completely change the course ofan individual’s life. If fate is best represented in the novellaby the open sea where pearl divers plunge beneath the waves hopingfor divine blessings, human agency is best represented by the villageof La Paz, where myriad human desires, plans, and motives come togetherto form civilization.

Kino and Juana’s lives change irreparably the momentthe scorpion, a symbol of malignant fate, bites their child. Theirlives then change irreparably again the moment Kino finds the pearl,a symbol of beneficent fate. Nevertheless, it is not fate but humanagency, in the form of greed, ambition, and violence, that facilitatesthe novella’s disastrous final outcome, as Kino’s greed and thegreed of others lead to a series of conflicts over the pearl. Kinofinds himself caught between the forces of fate and the forces ofhuman society, between the destiny handed him by fate and the destinyhe seeks to create himself.

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Colonial Society’s Oppression of Native Cultures

The doctor who refuses to save Coyotito’s life at thebeginning of the novel because Kino lacks the money to pay him representscolonial arrogance and oppression. Snide and condescending, thedoctor displays an appallingly limited and self-centered mind-setthat is made frightening by his unshakable belief in his own culturalsuperiority over Kino, and by the power that he holds to save ordestroy lives. Steinbeck implicitly accuses the doctor’sentire colonial society of such destructive arrogance, greed, andambition. The European colonizers that govern Kino and the nativepeople are shown to bring about the destruction of the native society’sinnocence, piety, and purity.

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