How is poverty shown in The Pearl?

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John Steinbeck presents poverty as both a material and a structural problem. The Pearl reveals that the issues that Kino and Juana face are not just their lack of money. The reader meets the family living in constrained circumstances; for example, the baby does not even have a crib but...

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John Steinbeck presents poverty as both a material and a structural problem. The Pearl reveals that the issues that Kino and Juana face are not just their lack of money. The reader meets the family living in constrained circumstances; for example, the baby does not even have a crib but sleeps in a box. When they need medical treatment for their son, they must face the prejudice of the doctor who refuses to treat him, whether at their home or his practice. When Kino finds the great pearl, its monetary value is not available to him because others mistrust his ownership of such a precious thing. We can also consider poverty of spirit as an affliction of the wealthy. Looking at the doctor’s behavior toward the family, we see that he violates his sworn oath. Steinbeck shows him as spiritually impoverished, although he has material success.

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Poverty is shown in "The Pearl" as an inevitable accompaniment to colonial oppression. Like other indigenous folk, Kino and his family occupy the lowest rungs of the social ladder. For centuries, their people have been kept down, confined to the most menial jobs, their culture gradually eroded by their Spanish colonial overlords. In such an environment, it's a daily struggle just to survive.

Little wonder, then, that Kino is initially so excited when he discovers a valuable pearl in the sea. All of a sudden, it seems that he and his family are set for life. No longer will they have to endure the humiliating grind of poverty; they will be able to live the kind of life previously denied to them. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that, as Kino and his family soon discover. The pearl attracts the attention of greedy, unscrupulous traders who don't want to give Kino a fair price for his find. Aside from their greed, the traders are motivated by racism. They know that poverty is a way of keeping the indigenous people in their place. If Kino is paid his due for the pearl and becomes rich, then it will set—for the traders—a dangerous precedent, potentially giving other indigenous people ideas above their lowly station in life.

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