Most people born and raised in America cannot even imagine the depths of poverty that most of the rest of the world are forced to live with. This story illuminates this fact, as we enter the world of Kino, a pearl diver and occasional fisherman, his wife Juana, and their baby son, Coyotito. All they have is a grass shack house, a few clay cooking utensils, and their prize possession, Kino's boat, inherited from his father and grandfather. The boat is the family's livelihood, providing the means to put a meal on the table and to provide a few pesos for store bought goods by selling the small pearls Kino is able to find.
But Kino and his family, far from being depressed or unhappy, have a great treasure, the love they have for each other and their satisfaction with life as it is, with few disturbing dreams of greater things. But their quiet, routine life is turned upside down the day that Kino finds a Great Pearl. Suddenly Kino can dream of better things: a rifle for himself, school for his son so he will be able to read and tell what is really in the books, a real house. But dreams can be deadly things. Dreams lead to desire, and desire to greed, and greed to violence.
What happens to Kino and family from this point on is not a pretty story. Now we see that underneath the quiet, idyllic seeming small town and its inhabitants lie the seeds of cheating, betrayal, collusion, fear, and murder. And we see the gradual loss of Kino's real treasures. By the end of the book, events have reached the level of real tragedy, and you, along with Kino, are liable to end up in a state of emotional exhaustion.
Steinbeck's prose for this book matches his characters and situation very well, a very minimalist sentence structure and set of speech patterns. As a parable, the story has a strong moralistic point, but Steinbeck does not overdrive his thematic message, but lets his story speak for itself. One of Steinbeck's great strengths was his ability to capture on paper the characters he saw around him, and this book is a showcase for that talent. The characters of Kino and Juana are exquisitely drawn, real people you can relate to even though their lifestyles may be very far from your own. And because they are real people, it is very hard not to get drawn into their lives, where their dreams and their pains very readily become your own.
This may not be Steinbeck's greatest book, as it is too short and with too limited a focus to compare to something like his Grapes of Wrath. But within its own territory, there are very few other pieces of literature that are even half as good.
Referring to this novella, as a variant is in no way meant to detract from the work, or suggest that it is lacking in originality. The two other works Steinbeck's book "The Pearl" is sometimes linked to, add to the reading experience, and reinforce the transcendence of its message.
"The Pearl Of Great Price" from a parable in the Gospel of Matthew, attempts to teach with the same jewel from the sea. Mr. Steinbeck was also a great reader of medieval texts, and one of these morality plays was in the form of a poem written in the 14th Century, entitled "Pearl" although the Author is unknown. These three works are separated by millennia, but their commentary on the human condition is consistent.
Mr. Steinbeck wrote this after his triumph "The Grapes Of Wrath". The work was a monumental bestseller, it brought The Pulitzer Prize to the Author, and was rapidly made into a movie that is a classic in it's own right. Superficially one could argue Mr. Steinbeck achieved all that a writer might conceivably want, fame, fortune, and critical recognition.
Unfortunately, like his work, often when you feel something good is about to happen, a positive change for his characters that have struggled, and fought to survive, he slams you face down on bedrock's reality. The acclaim for his work brought him great discomfort as well. He was labeled a socialist, a communist, an agitator, and became the focus of FBI attention, and not because they liked his book. He viewed and detested the treatment the racism toward Mexicans in Southern California, and witnessed the so-called "Zoot Suit Riots" that resulted.
"The Pearl" might be called the lottery if it was written today. The ticket that vaults a person from the troubles of day-to-day life, and is thought to leave them "set for life" all too often is a quick financial ride up and a crash back down.
Sudden wealth when thrust upon a person, changes the person, and everyone around them. All their reference points, their friends, and all that their lives have not prepared them for, surround, threaten, and many times destroy them.
This book is very brief, but it communicates as much as a novel 10 times its length. The ending is brilliant, tragic, and redemptive. It is a story that few could write, and even fewer could make work. The emotional scenes he brings the reader to are at times almost violent in there reading. And then with a turn of phrase he can change the mood time and time again.
A wonderful novella from an Author known for sweeping sagas.
on April 10, 2001
I suppose the fact that I had to read this book for school has sort of tainted my view of it. After spending at least a month disecting what the pearl represented and coming up with way too many questions about Juana, Kino and Coyotito, I pretty much had enough. In fact, I have a friend who screams at the mention of this book, if that is any indicator. Basically, this story talks about a pearl diver named Kino who finds a pearl, which ends up destroying his life. If you're looking for a feel good book, this isn't it. There are a lot of not-so-subtly disguised messages about wealth and it's power to corrupt. In fact, the whole book is practically one big symbolic thing. It is actually pretty interesting to see the underlying messages, because there are so many that once you start looking more and more just jump out at you. I give this book 3 stars because I am confident that, had I read this book on my own, I would have enjoyed it much more and not felt as if I had absolutely analyzed it to death. While it isn't the best book I've ever read, it still does deserve recognition, and if you like symbolism, this is your book.
on April 13, 2006
I've been on a roll of reading things I really like, and the trend continues . . .
*The Pearl* eats at you on a lot of levels. I used the word "eats" specifically because it is a book that makes you terribly uncomfortable. There is no solace in its chapters - the beginning is happy; the ending bleak.
Kino is happy with his life - he thinks about his "ordinary morning, perfect morning" as the novella opens. He has so little, yet his happiness is complete until his child is bitten by a scorpion. It is really Juana's insistence that they go to a doctor that dooms Kino. Though the doctor never SAYS to Kino "You are an animal", Kino knows why the doctor refuses to treat Coyotito, and his anger at his own impotence begins to eat him alive. On some level, he believes that money, education will make him "human" to the eyes of others.
It is the ultimate irony that the pearl, which represents money (at least on one level), transforms him into what he was so unjustly called: an animal. Kino's desire to protect his "chance" causes him to behave in ways that he never would have dreamed. He beats his wife, acting on instinct at the exclusion of emotion, and is willing to sacrifice his family for what he sees within the pearl. He kills with pleasure, and while the killings are at least partially justified, he is unsettled by his own savagery. Kino is what he never before was - Steinbeck uses the word "animal" to describe his behavior on multiple occasions as he attempts to defend his pearl. It is the ultimate regression of his character from something that is human to something that almost isn't.
So, why does this unhappy parable make us so uncomfortable? Because it goes so against what we as a society believe. Prevailing thought tells us that if only our masses could have the opportunity to pursue education and money, life would be Utopia. Steinbeck shows us that human nature is a little darker than that - that even when we are fulfilled, contented people, the danger of getting everything we ever wanted still lingers at our door.
on November 24, 2013
When I was 9 I said to my Dad that I was bored. He handed me this book and said "Here, read this." I immediately became a reader and a lifelong Steinbeck fan. The story deals with the effect money and the promise of it can have on people. It is incredibly well written and deceptively simple. This is easily one of the best books I have ever read and still one of my favorite Steinbeck novels. If you weren't made to read this in school, do yourself a favor and buy it.
on June 20, 2000
When Kino and his wife, Juana, find an enormous pearl in the Gulf Oyster Bed, they expect great fortune, wealth, security, honor, and a education for their son, Coyotito. Ironically, this wondrously beautiful pearl brought everything but good. Whoever touched, saw, or heard of it was immediately, and sometimes subconsciously corrupted by its size, beauty and possibilities that it would bring. Many a night, Kino's meek brush house was broken into and his life was attempted to be killed. Finally, his house was destroyed, his boat was punctured and he was forced to flee with his wife and child. Stalked by trained "people hunters"driven up a mountain. With only one thing left to do to preserve the pearl, Kino killed them. Before Kino successfully destroyed them, a shot was fired at Coyotito and he was killed. I thought that the Pearl by John Steinbeck was a wonderful novel. He described everything so wonderfully that I could picture it in my head. I loved how he put the feelings of the family, the pearl and evil into song. This book was a short novel; this was another trait that I liked. Steinbeck put this exiting, suspenseful, story into a short number of pages making it easier to read. This book was not only enjoyable to read, but educational. I learned how the Indians of Central America were oppressed by the Spanish. They were treated as animals and forced to do manual labor. I have no criticisms for this book. It was a genuine masterpiece!
on April 14, 2000
The magic of this book is that not a word is wasted and every sentence is loaded with meaning. I found it very like Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" in its simplicity and its evocation of imagery. Steinbeck tells of a fishing family that think all their dreams have been answered when they find a valuable pearl. They believe that the status of owning the pearl will bring them riches and glory but soon find that it will only bring them grief. There are many dualities in this text; good vs evil, rich vs poor, family vs wealth, friend vs foe, dreams vs reality, and so on. The simplicity of this tale gives it a universal meaning. It also serves to remind the reader that wealth and status cannot buy happiness. After reading this text one must ask oneself what they would do if they found their pearl. I highly recommend it.
on November 8, 2005
I am almost surprised to find THE PEARL published as a book in its own right. While I suppose that we can correctly classify it as a novella, its brevity suggests that one would expect to find it in a collection of Steinbeck's short stories rather than as an independent publication. Both the length and the straight-forward prose make the story a fast read, but its powerful imagery and strong message also make it a valuable and important read.
Taken as a whole, THE PEARL is the most wonderful example of irony that one can find. Finding the one object whose value, when sold, would raise Kino's family from its abject poverty and subsistence living should be cause for rejoicing, but the Fates are fickle and care nothing for what "should" happen to men. Rather than saving the family, the great value of Kino's find results in its utter destruction. Under the influence of what should have been the most fortuitous discovery in the lifetime of any pearl-diver, Kino is metamorphosed by forces beyond his power to comprehend, much less control, into a striker of women, a killer of men, a fugitive, and, we are left to assume, an executed criminal. His son is dead, and his wife has already said that she cannot live without a man, so her future destruction is also assured.
Within the overall framework of this huge irony are smaller ironies. Kino's son is named Coyotito, which, to me, suggests "Little Coyote." The tracker whose rifle bullet ends Coyotito's tiny life thinks that he is shooting at a coyote pup in the dark.
Sharing the stage with life's ironies, both great and small, are many observations on the nature of man, and none of them is positive. The local pearl buyers are all secretly employed by the same uber-buyer, and their apparent competitive bidding is a sham. The doctor, his eye on a hefty fee, creates the appearance of illness in Coyotito, whom he then "cures." Honest townsmen, or perhaps neighbors, skulk in the night to attack Kino and rob him of his treasure. The local priest displays his hypocrisy by thinking more of the fee his church will receive for baptizing Coyotito and for marrying Kino and Juana than of any spiritual benefit to the family. The vice of avarice overwhelms any inherent goodness that may otherwise exist in the townsmen, and their malicious natures are loosed by their greed.
At length, the treasure is returned to the sea that spawned it, but the damage has been done. Is man's nature so perverse, so readily sinful that he cannot control good fortune? Is man's destiny so dark and so doomed that the Fates can effortlessly turn good fortune to bad? THE PEARL affords the reader a clear and sharp view into the murky and sordid depths of man's soul and offers no promise of redemption from the universe. This---his treatment of his fellow man-is mankind's "original sin" and it is most thoroughly destructive.
Depressing THE PEARL may be, but it offers the reader valuable and all-too-often accurate insight into the mind and soul of his neighbor. For that, it is truly deserving of being read.
on March 2, 2010
John Steinbeck writes with heart and muscle. Whether penning a lumbering masterpiece such as "East of Eden," or a short parable such as this, he imbues character and setting with thought and feeling.
Kino, a young husband and father in the Gulf town of La Paz, goes out one morning to dive for pearls. He is happy. He hears the song of his family in the trees, yet also hears the song of evil murmuring in the tail of a scorpion. His senses are tuned to the world around him, to his village in particular, and so it is that his discovery of a magnificent pearl comes as a sudden surprise and responsibility. Soon he and his family are threatened by the greed of doctors and priests, businessmen and busybodies. Kino's wife wants the pearl tossed back into the sea, but Kino cannot block his ears to the pearl's song of fortune, and he presses ahead with his own plans.
Based on a Mexican folk tale, this story sings its own somber tune through the words of Steinbeck. It's a morality tale, an ode to hardworking men and women, and a reminder of the things that are most important. Like Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" and Armstrong Sperry's "Call it Courage," this short but powerful tale highlights regular people facing the challenges of greed and cowardice. Ultimately, it's a song of the family--a song Steinbeck sings often through his books.
on February 28, 2007
John Steinbeck has written a novel with a powerful message; sometimes, things are best just the way they are.
The story, based on a Mexican folk tale, centers on Kino, Juana, and their baby son Coyotito. Kino is a poor fisherman/pearl diver, relying on his canoe which was passed on from his grandfather down to him. His family lives in a small grass shack and they have very few possessions, but they have each other and they are happy. However, one day, baby Coyotito is bitten by a scorpion which made its way into his crib. Immediately, the poison begins to take hold, despite Juana's frantic efforts to suck the poison out of the baby. Desperate for their baby, Kino and Juana take him into town to see the doctor.
However, once in town, they are informed that the doctor is out on another visit, when in reality, he doesn't want to see Kino's family at all. Disheartened, Kino heads for his canoe.
Once out on the water, he goes through his regular routine of gathering clams and searching for pearls. But this dive turns out to be like no other Kini has ever experienced, for when he opens one of the clams, he sees the biggest pearl he's ever seen; The Pearl of the World. It is as large as a seagull's egg, and as perfect as the moon. Kino sees the immediate end to all of his problems, for with this pearl, he will have wealth beyond his wildest dreams: or will he?
Almost immediately, things begin to change in Kino's life. He begins to watch people a little more closely, fearing that they may try to steal his pearl. He dreams of owning new clothes, a new rifle, and having his son attend school someday.
He decides to venture into town to sell the pearl and collect his fortune. But, what he finds out there is not what he expected. The buyers tell him that the pearl is too large and because it is so large, it is not worth much money. He is offered much less money than he expected. Enraged, Kino and Juana head back to their house, and he buries the pearl in the dirt floor. But, during the night, someone sets his house on fire. Everything is quickly consumed, leaving only a few items. Kino then goes to check on his canoe, but he finds that someone has punched a hole in the bottom, rendering it useless.
Determined to get what he thinks the pearl is worth, the family decides to head to the capitol and sell the pearl there. But, Kino soon realizes that they are not alone; three trackers are following them. Kino tries to stay ahead of the trackers as they head off into the mountains. Will Kino succeed in selling his treasured pearl, or will the trackers catch up to them?
This is an excellent book, and it carries an important message; sometimes, things are better off the way they are rather than changing them. Kino was a humble and hard-working young man trying to raise his family the best he could, but once he found the pearl, everything about him changed. He became suspicious, greedy, and disrespectful to Juana. Granted, his intentions were good, but his actions were not. In the end, Kino ends up losing two precious things.
I highly recommend this classic work by John Steinbeck. Its message is clear; sometimes, things are best just the way they are.