by John Steinbeck
Tools of Characterization
According to Linda Wagner-Martin, Kino is named for Eusebius Kino, a Jesuit missionary who explored the gulf region. This would be highly ironic, since our character Kino is the victim of colonization. Also, the guy that Kino murders in the dark is nameless, which is significant if you want to talk about his humanity (or lack thereof). Also, notice that the doctor, the priest, and the buyer all lack names. This is in line with the story as a parable – names aren’t important, but is also means that the doctor is all doctors, the priest is all priests, the buyer all merchants in all markets. These men’s flaws, then, are as universal as their professions.
That Kino and Juana live with the other natives on the outskirts of the town inhabited by wealthy white people is indicative of their plight as marginalized natives. That the doctor lives in an incredibly opulent dwelling is indicative of his being a wealth-obsessed meanie.
Social status is a reflection of power and greed in this parable. The doctor and the priest have respected positions in society, but they both act with purely self-serving interest towards Kino. Conversely, Juan Tomás and his wife are as poor and marginalized as Kino, but they help him with what little they have. If this seems overly simplistic to you, welcome to the world of the parable.
Speech and Dialogue
The Rhythmic Language of the Natives
Steinbeck reported that he spent a lot of time listening to the way Spanish was spoken around the Baja Peninsula. While the novel is in English (as is all the dialogue), he supposedly tried to infuse the characters’ speech with the same cadence and rhythm of the language he observed. So that’s what you hear when, say, Juana tell her husband: "Let us break it between stones. Let us bury it and forget the place. Let us throw it back into the sea […]. Kino, my husband, it will destroy us."
When Kino brings his wounded son to the doctor, he speaks to the doctor’s servant in "the old language" when he sees that the man is "of his own race." When the servant responds, however, he "refuse[s] to speak in the old language." The servant has conformed to the standards of the colonizing Europeans and abandoned his native community and language.
The Priest’s Holier-Than-Thou Speech
The priest says to Kino: "Thy namesake tamed the desert and sweetened the minds of thy people, didst thou know that?" It is interesting that the priest has come to Kino’s dwelling to reach out to him, to tell him he is part of the religious community – and yet he delivers the news in an alienating language. This is just a reminder that the organizations of the Europeans – even the religious organizations – seek to control rather than include the natives.