mackenziemurphy, April 1, 2014 (view all comments by mackenziemurphy)
John Steinbeck causes readers to ponder acts of greed in his novella, The Pearl. This story, written as a parable, teaches the negative side of greed. The characters of Kino and Juana are graced with fortune upon their discovery of the pearl of the world, the greatest pearl in existence. Kino wants to make a life for his son, but through doing that he wants to benefit through his son’s future knowledge. Steinbeck teaches, “It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away” (18). This parable is a very good, enjoyable read that forces readers to put their own acts of greed into perspective.
The tale of Kino and his family is based in La Paz, Mexico. La Paz is located in The Gulf of California, a similar setting to many of Steinbeck’s works. The people of Kino’s community live in poverty like many Mexicans did at the time this story was written. Like in many of Steinbeck’s other works, The Pearl focuses on his view on social issues, like the unfair treatment of the lower class, while highlighting the poisons of greed.
In order to set up this story, Steinbeck opens the novella with misfortune for Kino and his family. Kino’s son suffers from a scorpion’s sting. Despite Juana’s attempts to suck out the venom, they worry their son’s small body may not survive this misfortune. However, they are turned away from the cities’ doctor, like expected, due to their lack of money. The family’s luck changes when they go out in Kino’s boat for him to collect pearls. After diving for pearls, he comes to the surface with the pearl of the world. This is a great fortune for the family. This pearl may lift the family out of their life in poverty. Immediately the family starts to think of their future. Kino plans for him and Juana to finally get married, and for his son to go to school. Although these don’t seem like selfish acts at first, the pearl slowly seems to effect Kino. Juana begins to see this and suggests getting rid of the pearl so the gods will not punish them for wanting a material object too much. Kino challenges by ensuring her, “And these things will make us free because he will know-he will know and through him we will know”(24). The upper class of the story tries to cheat the lower class family out of their pearl by offering them less than it is worth. This shows the greed that is ever present in the world. That greed seeps into Kino’s life, proving Juana’s original suspicions to be correct. The pearl brings more misfortune to the family than it has in value. Kino’s behavior and actions face a drastic change, and as a result it causes his family extreme pain.
This parable is an important read. It teaches the valuable lessons of the poisons of greed. Steinbeck highlights his views through the life of Kino and Juana. Through his style he invites the reader to appreciate Kino’s hard work and life style. He does this by making Kino’s family victimized by the upper class of the community like the doctor and pearl appraisers. However, Steinbeck teaches that nobody is immune to the power of greed. Although Kino did deserve to find a pearl of that magnitude, he still managed to be engulfed with selfishness and greed. This parable makes the reader think and question their own acts of greed and selfishness, which proves Steinbeck’s point was successfully made.
Steinbeck, like in his other books and novellas, comments on society. He comments on how greed is like a poison and can affect anyone with its harmful influences. He teaches through Kino that even a good intended action can be overtaken by greed. The Pearl contains a lesson very important for all.
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Home School Book Review, March 25, 2012 (view all comments by Home School Book Review)
Kino, a young and strong but poor pearl diver, and Juana live with their baby son Coyotito in a small fishing village outside the city of La Paz, Mexico (which according to Wikipedia is in Baja California Sur on the Gulf of California). Coyotito is stung by a scorpion, but as Kino has no money to pay the doctor, the boy is refused treatment. He recovers, thanks to Juana’s ministrations, but the next day Kino finds a huge pearl, which he calls “the pearl of the world.” By selling it, he can get the money to pay the doctor, but he also dreams of buying a rifle, marrying Juana, and getting Coyotito an education, things that he has never had money for thus far. However, his dreams blind him to the greed that the pearl arouses in him and his neighbors.
Soon, the whole town knows of the pearl, and many people begin to desire it. That night Kino is attacked in his own home. The next day, he takes the pearl to the pearl buyers in the town, but they refuse to give him the money he wants so he decides to go to the capital for better price. Juana, seeing that the pearl is causing darkness and greed, sneaks out of the house later that night to throw the pearl back into the ocean, but Kino catches her. While he is returning to the house, Kino is attacked again by several unknown men and the pearl is lost in the struggle. Juana finds it and gives it back to Kino. When they arrive home they find that their canoe is damaged and their home is burning down, so they determine to walk to the capital but soon find that they are being tracked by men who are hired to hunt them. Will the family be able to escape? And what will happen to the pearl?
This novella, which was first published as a short story “The Pearl of the World” in Woman’s Home Companion in 1945, explores man's nature as well as greed and evil and supposedly illustrates our fall from innocence. It is said to be a retelling of an old Mexican folk tale. That the doctor has performed clumsy abortions and had a mistress is mentioned. There are references to drinking wine and smoking cigarettes as well as to both “God” and “the gods.” Kino and Juana are not married but, of course, are living together and have a son. The story exhibits Steinbeck’s typical pessimistic cynicism leading to the conclusion that if something good ever happens, you had better watch out because it is just setting you up for something really bad. Someone has suggested that it bares “the fallacy of the American dream--that wealth erases all problems.” I don’t agree that the American dream is that wealth erases all problems, although some might think that, but I do agree that we must learn that wealth is not the ultimate answer to man’s greatest needs and presents some serious problems. All in all, it is not too bad of a book.
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mary.raglin, October 10, 2008 (view all comments by mary.raglin)
Chasing the dream. This story contains it all to make you laugh, cry and then sit back and think about how true this story really is. We all chase dreams and when our luck changes for the better we want more. The wife sees more clearly and is more level headed knowing that she will be there beside her husband no matter what. She is his pearl.
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