by John Steinbeck
Kino isn’t very complicated. He loves his family, he dives for pearls, and he’s obsessed with being a man. That’s pretty much it.
But while Kino never deviates from his masculine role, he does stop being entirely human. What we mean is, he gets less like a human and more like an animal. So what do you make of this? On the one hand, we can’t really expect much more of the guy; he’s out in the wilderness, his life is threatened, and his family is in danger. He has to get animalistic if he wants to survive.
On the other hand, he murders three men (in addition to earlier the one in the village) without giving it a second thought. Does the novel seem to condemn his actions or excuse them?
Let’s take a look at this super interesting line from Chapter Three: "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." Man is made superior to animals by his ability to seek a better life.
OK….except Kino becomes an animal after he starts looking to climb the ladder of success. So what’s up with that? Kino is more human, more civilized by his dreaming. Just like the pearl (see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory"), dreams aren’t bad per se – it’s society that screws them up. Society takes Kino and, for all his dreaming, beats him back into the ground – back into the status of an animal. He is left with no choice but to respond with the only weapons he has: instinct, physicality, and violence.