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John Steinbeck, with a very simple storyline, develops several deep Themes in The Pearl. The first theme is that most people are envious of wealth of other people, especially newly inherited wealth; many people will try to take part of that wealth by any means possible, both legal and illegal. When Kino acquires the pearl, the townsfolk grow jealous and plot ways to seize a portion of the riches. The doctor and priest call on Kino at his humble hut, probably for the first time ever in hopes of ingratiating themselves and receiving large payments out of Kino's wealth. The pearl buyers try to swindle Kino out of the pearl, telling him it is worthless and offering a low sum to buy it. Several "dark forces" sneak into Kino's hut at night and try of steal the pearl. The trackers hunt Kino down in the mountains in search of the pearl. The greed and envy of all this people destroy the peace and happiness that Kino has always known. In the end, Kino decides that the pearl only causes misery and pain and tosses it back into the sea.
In showing the effects that the pearl has on other people, Steinbeck is also developing the theme of man's cruelty to his fellow man. The doctor cruelly refuses to treat Coyotito. The pearl buyers try to cheat Kino out of a fortune. The "dark forces" break into Kino's house and wound him, destroy his canoe, and burn his hut. The trackers force Juana and Kino to run through the desert and seek refuge in a cave, where their young son is accidentally shot. Truly, man can be inhumane to his fellow man.
Steinbeck also points out the cruelty of social classes in the novella. A huge chasm exists between the poor, native Indians (the have-nots of the lower class) and the well to do townsfolk (the haves of the upper class). The people in the lower class know and accept their place on the social scale. They realize that their poverty and lack of education prevents them enjoying the conveniences of the modern world found in the town, and they accept this position without a fight. During the course of the book, Kino challenges the upper class two different times. He seeks the doctor's help when the scorpion stings Coyotito. As expected, the doctor rejects his pleas; in rage, Kino strikes the doctor's gate, in an attempt to fight the upper class and all that it stands for. As punishment, he suffers from an injured hand throughout the book.
When Kino refuses to sell his pearl to the greedy dealers, he again challenges the modern world symbolized in the town. Again he is punished for breaking with tradition, for he is pursued by trackers throughout the desert and into the mountains. The upper class is relentless in its pursuit of what it wants, and will use any means to obtain it. It is also determined to keep the chasm between themselves and the lower class.