Kino, a young Mexican-Indian pearl diver at the peak of his physical powers. With black, unruly hair, keen dark eyes, and a coarse, ragged mustache, Kino is lithe and strong, able to gather oysters underwater for a full two minutes without surfacing and to move about, catlike and undetected, in the dark and on rough terrain. Devoted to his wife, Juana, and his infant son, Coyotito, and proud of his position as head of his family and initially content with the traditional life of his ancestors, Kino has dreams and needs that are at first simple. When he seeks treatment for Coyotito’s scorpion bite from the white doctor and is scornfully dismissed, however, anger awakens in him. After he finds a magnificent pearl, he quickly becomes more aware of his people’s powerlessness and ignorance as he encounters contempt, deceit, greed, and brutality in the bigger world where he goes to sell his glorious treasure. As the threats to his pearl and his family’s safety become more pressing, Kino’s serenity and innocence are replaced by rage, fear, cunning, and the instinct to kill. In the end, having murdered four men and lost his hut, his beloved inherited canoe, and, above all, his precious infant son, a stone-hearted Kino hurls the malignant pearl back into the sea.
Juana, Kino’s young wife, who dresses simply, out of necessity, wearing a ragged blue skirt, carrying her son slung in her shawl, and tying her dark braids with faded green ribbons. A wedding outfit, folded away, awaits better days. A silent young woman with watchful dark eyes, Juana is self-effacing and submissive to Kino, giving herself over to caring skillfully for her husband and son. A pragmatist, she prays for protection both to traditional gods and to the Christian God of the powerful Catholic Church. She is manifestly the source of Kino’s early contentment with his life, despite its poverty; indeed, his first desire when he finds the pearl is that they should be legally married in the church to confirm their strong union. When threats to her family arise, Juana reveals an iron will and a perceptiveness that her husband lacks. In the face of Kino’s reluctance, Juana insists on fetching the white doctor to tend Coyotito; in the face of Kino’s grand dreams of new possessions and an education for Coyotito, Juana soon recognizes that the pearl will bring only catastrophe, and she urges Kino to throw it back into the sea. In the face of Kino’s fierce determination, Juana dares to creep from the hut and try to get rid of the pearl herself. She stoically endures the beating that ensues, then accepts without question their need for flight after Kino murders a nighttime intruder. When she and Kino return to the village bearing the pitiful burden of their dead son, the villagers note that instead of trailing behind, Juana now walks beside Kino as an equal, forged in the same crucible of suffering.
The white doctor
The white doctor, a puffy-eyed, obese, lazy, and discontented man immured in his luxurious villa in town. He dreams obsessively of his one youthful sojourn in Paris and harbors the colonialist’s contempt for Mexico, reluctantly tending only those patients who hold the promise of fat fees. When he thinks of them at all, he regards the Indian people as animals and refuses to treat them. Having curtly dismissed Kino’s plea to help Coyotito, he undergoes a miraculous change of attitude when he hears about Kino’s pearl. He seeks out the family, overwhelming them with his authority and seeming compassion. After callously giving Coyotito medicine that makes the baby sick, he then effects a “cure,” hoping to benefit handsomely from Kino’s newfound wealth. The doctor embodies the corruption of the Mexican Indians’ Spanish oppressors.
The trackers, Kino’s nemeses. The hopelessness of Kino’s flight and the inevitability of disaster become apparent as soon as the skillful trackers appear over the horizon. A gleaming rifle, carried by the chief tracker and an emblem of his power, turns from being chief among Kino’s dreams of advancement to the instrument of brute authority and of his son’s death. Although Kino kills the trackers with his own knife, the rifle, ironically, is the only trophy with which he returns, beaten, to his village.