The Pearl is a retelling of a Mexican parable. The novella tells a classically tragic story of greed, obsession, and man’s endless thirst for a better life through the lens of anti-colonialism. The main character, Kino, is a poor indigenous man who finds a giant pearl that could change the trajectory of his life. Kino has a quasi-magical ability to perceive life as a song, and through these songs, he can instinctually recognize the goodness or evilness of his circumstances. But as his life becomes more complicated, it grows difficult for him to tell where or who the songs of evil originate from and whom he can trust. The pearl confuses his senses, and its promises of wealth, education, and liberation lead Kino down a path of violence and obsession that ends in the destruction of his dreams and the death of his son. Part of the tragedy of The Pearl is that Kino lives in an unjust world. Had his society been a fair one, he could have sold the pearl and acquired the money and resources he desired, but his world is one of oppression, exploitation, and deceit. The colonial powers that rule his community have only one goal: to keep the indigenous people subservient. By the end of the novella, they have succeeded in this goal. However, The Pearl is also a parable of the folly of man as an individual and as a species. Kino, who is an archetypical character, becomes so obsessed with the possibility of riches and a better life that he ignores the pearl’s evil and the warnings of his brother and wife. He becomes more animal than man, forced to murder others to protect his treasure and turning on his own wife when she attempts to get rid of the pearl. In his pursuit of money and everything it can give him, he loses his humanity and suffers the greatest consequence: the death of his son.

At the start of The Pearl, pearl diver Kino lives contentedly with his wife Juana and their infant son Coyotito in the Mexican town of La Paz. Their life is difficult in many ways, especially due to their poverty, but they are generally satisfied by their close-knit community and by the natural beauties of the world. However, the inciting incident breaks up the comfortable routine of their lives: Coyotito is stung by a scorpion, which endangers his life. Kino and Juana bring Coyotito to the town doctor, a racist white Western man who views the native population as animals. Kino doesn’t have enough money to pique the doctor’s interest, and the doctor coldly refuses to treat or even see the baby. Juana does her best to care for the scorpion sting herself, and Kino takes to the ocean in the hopes of finding enough pearls to pay for medical care. Kino finds the pearl of the world, the largest pearl ever seen in La Paz.

In the novella’s rising action, the townspeople learn about Kino’s pearl. Some, like the doctor, seek to ingratiate themselves with Kino, hoping to obtain some of the money that Kino will make from the pearl. Others, like Juana and Kino’s brother, give him cautionary advice. Both of them, especially Juana, worry that the pearl may not bring all of the wealth and blessings that Kino expects. But Kino has seen a seductive prophecy in the pearl: the money from the pearl’s sale will not only catapult his family into a higher class but allow Coyotito to be educated, a privilege afforded to none in his community. If Coyotito becomes educated and literate, he can bring his knowledge and resources back to La Paz and potentially help his people liberate themselves from oppression. Kino cannot imagine giving up on the possibility of freedom that the pearl presents. When he finally arrives at the market to sell the pearl, the pearl buyers have concocted a scheme to lowball Kino and buy the pearl for pennies. Kino sees through their manipulation and decides to bring the pearl to the capital city in search of a fair price. As he and Juana prepare to begin their journey, Kino is attacked by a man who wants to steal the pearl and Kino must murder him. They find their boat destroyed, so they cannot escape by sea. They leave knowing that they will be followed by a search party of colonizers whose only goal is to take the pearl and destroy Kino’s family.

Kino, Juana, and Coyotito struggle through a difficult trek across the desert toward the capital. They do their best to cover their tracks, but they are still closely followed by three trackers. In the novel’s climax, Kino realizes that the trackers will soon find them, and that their only chance of escape is to attempt to kill the trackers before they kill him and his family. He ambushes the trackers at night, but before he has the chance to kill them all, one of them shoots toward the hiding place of Juana and Coyotito. While Kino does overtake and kill the trackers, his son is shot in the head and dies on impact. In the novel’s falling action, Kino and Juana return to La Paz carrying the body of their son. They are both hardened and changed by their harrowing and horrifying experience, and Kino finally does what Juana begged him to do earlier in the story: he throws the pearl far into the ocean where no one else can find it and succumb to its curse. The novella’s ending is bittersweet. While there is a sense of peace in that the pearl’s evil has been drowned in the vastness of the ocean, the characters’ lives have changed for the worse: the possibility of wealth is gone, Coyotito is dead, and the chance at liberation from colonization has been lost.