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While one could certainly argue that Kino's greed, violence, and stubborn attitude make him a villain, Steinbeck portrays him more as a victim in the novella. Kino is an oppressed indigenous man who lives in a segregated society and is discriminated against by the ruling European colonists. When Kino initially discovers the Pearl of the World, he dreams of a better life for his family and imagines Coyotito sitting at a school desk and getting an education. Kino desperately wishes for his son to become literate and desires a beautiful wedding ceremony for his wife. Kino's dreams are admirable and unselfish. He simply wishes to have a normal, content life and enjoy the privileges that are reserved solely for the white colonists living in town. After the corrupt pearl dealers try to take advantage of him, Kino is driven to violence and acts out in self-defense whenever he is attacked. The pearl can be regarded as an extension of Kino's humble dreams, which is why he stubbornly refuses to get rid of it. Kino's insistence on making a better life for his family and his wishes to rise above his social status depict him as a determined, selfless man. Unfortunately, the prejudiced society prevents Kino from attaining a better life, and his refusal to let go of his dreams results in tragedy. Overall, one could make the argument that Steinbeck portrays Kino as more of a victim than a villain because of his humble dreams and the unfortunate circumstances he strives to overcome.

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When The Pearl is presented as a parable (a simple story that teaches a moral lesson), readers are sometimes led to the conclusion that Kino is a villain in this story. He is corrupted by greed and is punished for wanting too much. He abuses his wife and his power in his quest for wealth. Because of these things, we tend to believe that the moral of the story is that we should be content with what we have. Kino's transformation into an animalistic monster is the final blow. However,

  • What is wrong with wanting a better life?
  • Isn't Kino a victim of other people's greed?
  • Isn't Kino a hero for trying to challenge the unfair rules that are used to oppress him and the people of his village?
  • Does Kino fail at selling the pearl and bettering his life because he is a bad person or does he fail because the rules are rigged against him?

I would argue that Kino is actually not a villain but rather a victim. Steinbeck's writing shows that Steinbeck admires the ambition of those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder. We could argue that Kino is only violent in self-defense and for the preservation of his family.

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