What is the specific meaning of this quote from Steinbeck's The Pearl?

“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.” - John Steinbeck, The Pearl

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Immediately after Kino discovers the Pearl of the World, he begins to fantasize about the material items he plans on purchasing and thinks about how his life will dramatically improve. Steinbeck's quote examines the nature of human desire and ambition. Steinbeck understands that it is in our nature to never be satisfied and to always desire more. Therefore, the reader correctly assumes that Kino will never be satisfied with his accumulation of material wealth and the pearl will never bring him peace. Typically, mankind's unending, insatiable desire is viewed as a negative aspect of our humanity. However, Steinbeck refers to mankind's insatiable desire as one of our "greatest talents," which has influenced our species to accomplish nearly impossible feats and motivated us to push our limits. Steinbeck recognizes that humanity's insatiable desire is not completely negative and ambition is the precursor to innovation and invention, which has elevated our species to the top of the animal kingdom. Steinbeck's astute observation in a story about the dangers of insatiable desire illustrates his brilliance as a writer and scholar of humanity.

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Steinbeck was a great scholar of human nature.  His allegorical tale of Kino and the pearl demonstrates a fundamental part of human nature: people always want what they can’t have.

Everyone wants something from Kino after he finds the pearl.  It’s both extremely valuable and worthless.  As a large pearl, it should be valuable.  However it’s not worth anything because he can’t sell it.  Everyone just wants to take advantage of him, and find a way to get his share of the pearl.  So even though Kino has a valuable pearl, he doesn’t have the money to save his baby.  That is why he throws the pearl back into the ocean.

However, as the second half of the quote addresses, there is an advantage to always wanting more than you have.  If humans never dreamed, we would never accomplish anything.  It is our dreams that make us who we are.  Even though Kino cannot sell the pearl, the dreams of what he could do with it mean something.  They may be all he has.


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