The setting of the story is the area of La Paz, a pearl fishing town in Mexico on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, around the year 1900. The pearl fisher Kino is a native Mexican whose son gets bitten by a scorpion and needs help urgently. To afford a doctor, Kino dives for pearls and finds the largest pearl the people have ever seen. The other Indian people in his village of natives become jealous, and the whole town knew directly that Kino had found the “Pearl of the World”. Kino sees his dreams come true, because he now could afford all the things he never could pay for. He could pay the doctor, he could get married, he could buy new clothes and wear shoes, and he could send his son Coyotito to school.
One of the main themes is colonialism and the oppression of the natives. Mexico is still a colonial society in the 20th century, because the native Mexicans are not treated the same way as the colonizers, which were the Spanish and other Europeans. Kino is a native Indian and feels the superiority of the colonists. At the beginning, he is treated badly by the town doctor who refuses to treat Coyotito because Kino had no money to pay him. The doctor said: “Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for ‘little Indians’? I am a doctor, not a veterinary” (Steinbeck, p.14). The doctor is arrogant and compares Indians to animals by saying he is not a veterinary. He already assumed that Kino had no money anyway to pay him, so he doesn’t even look at the baby. This shows how the natives are treated in colonial societies.
Colonizers think that they are better than the natives, believing that the Indians are stupid and poor and don’t know anything. They don’t realize that it is because of the oppression that the natives can’t escape their situation. They can not go to school and are always seen as inferior. They are not given a chance. In the story, Kino has no chance to sell his pearl for the real price that it is worth, because the colonists, who buy the pearls, want to take advantage of his weakness. The colonists are also hypocrites, because when they heard about the pearl and knew they could get money, the doctor suddenly came to see the child and the priest came to bless them. Throughout the story, Kino never gets a real chance to use his fortune. He feels betrayed and in danger, because some people, which were probably sent by the pearl dealers, try to steal the pearl several times and even try to kill him. They destroy his boat because they wanted to destroy his spirit. When he left to sell the pearl in the capital, some men follow him to take it from him.
He has always been the loser and the higher class wants him to to stay small and unimportant. Steinbeck describes natives as innocent and uncorrupted. However, the greed of people and the hope of a better life force Kino to lose his innocence and to become a murderer. The society doesn’t give natives a chance to rise to a higher level, but always wants to look down at them. Kino feels angry and frustrated when the doctor finally suddenly comes to see the baby. But he let him in because he saw him as a man with more knowledge and he was scared for his son “He was trapped as his people were always trapped…” (Steinbeck, p.39). This quote shows that the natives will always rely on the colonists because they don’t have the chance to learn or become anything. Kino is full of hope at the beginning of the story, but at the end he is worse off than before. All his dreams are shattered, because his society doesn’t accept natives to become one of them.