Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl (1947) by John Steinbeck weaves a story of good, evil, events, and their consequences. Based in part on a Mexican folk tale, this novella has beauty in its simplicity.

The story is set in La Paz, Mexico, where Kino and his wife Juana have an infant son Coyotito. Kino works to gather pearls from the Gulf of Mexico. Their meager life is challenged when they are shamed by a doctor who refuses to treat their son Coyotito after he is bit by a scorpion.

Wishing and praying for change, Kino finds "The Pearl of the World," a pearl the size of a sea gull’s egg. He sees promises in the pearl. Kino plans to marry Juana in a church, wants to buy a rifle and some new clothes, and aims to send his son to school.

After Kino and Juana find the pearl, the social order of their town transforms. The idyllic setting changes to one filled with mistrust, greed, betrayal, and murder. For instance, once the doctor hears of their wealth, he poisons Coyotito and then deceives Kino and Juana into believing that he cured their son. Coyotito was actually saved by Juana’s quick care.

Kino attempts to sell the pearl, but becomes hardened when he is offered an unfair price. Later, Kino and Juana’s home and most prized possession (their boat) are destroyed by people trying to steal the pearl. The music of the pearl counters the “Song of the Family” in Kino’s ears. As Kino clings to the pearl’s promises, his satisfaction with his humble life falls apart. Juana pleas for Kino to throw the pearl away or destroy it, but Kino refuses. Juana then tries to throw the pearl into the sea on her own, but Kino attacks her, becoming a man who is “half insane and half god.” Later, Kino murders a thief who attempts to steal the pearl. This event leads the family to depart from their home.

On their way to the capital, Kino believes that sheep trackers are on their trail, though it is never clear whether this is the case. Perceiving that they are hunted and tracked like animals, Kino becomes more like an animal himself. He resorts to murder, but ironically his son Coyotito is also killed when mistaken for a coyote. Kino’s choices and insistence on keeping the pearl eventually led him to murder four men and result in the death of Coyotito.

The Pearl is a tragedy. Instead of bringing good fortune to Kino’s family, the pearl was a curse that destroyed their unity and brought evil into their home.

Purchase and read books by John Steinbeck:

The Pearl by John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck East of Eden by John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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