John Steinbeck’s 1947 novel, The Pearl, is still considered a much-loved classic.  And by that I mean, that like Steinbeck’s other novels, it is still done to death in high school classrooms around the world.  Because who doesn’t love superbly written classics coupled with strong moral messages?

Well, high school kids, but I digress.

The Pearl follows a poor pearl diver, Kino, who lives in the town of La Paz with his wife Juana, and his baby son, Coyotito.  Living day to day on their meagre findings, Kino and his family know nothing in life except the simple existence of living day-to-day.  One day, while diving for pearls, Kino finds ‘the pearl of the world’ an enormous, beautiful pearl that would make Kino and his family rich beyond their imaginations.

The pearl, which brings promise and allows Kino to dream of things they never thought obtainable, soon becomes a source of greed and destruction.  The town’s doctor, the pearl buyers and even those friends of Kino begin to lust and covet the pearl, and their actions soon cause Kino and his family to flee, despite the promises that the pearl once held.

 

Oh John Steinbeck.  Always about the moral messages and what our actions lead to.  I remember reading Of Mice and Men when I was about 15 in high school and having absolutely no clue as to what it was supposed to mean, or what was wrong with Lennie.  In all honesty, the most distinctive aspect of the book that I remember was how short it was.  Of course looking back, Of Mice and Men was less about the storyline and more about the themes and messages throughout the novel, the main one being friendship.  The Pearl is another Steinbeck novels that has a strong message throughout.

The storyline of the Pearl, as well as the language that Steinbeck uses, is simple yet chilling.  Using such basic language, Steinbeck is able to create not only a perfect backdrop, but also an atmosphere – one of excitement, fear, loathing and, above all else, greed.

The message in The Pearl is glaringly obvious; human beings are greedy, and our greed is our inevitable downfall.  At the beginning of the novel, Kino is poor, but happy.  He and Juana are not married, but they are in love and have a family together.  The necessity of their daily lives means that, although they wish for more, they don’t have the time or energy to covet it in the same way that most of us do in the 21st century.

And then comes along the pearl.  A pearl which contains so much hope, but with hope come expectations, and if these expectations aren’t met, then we’re disappointed.  In theory, the pearl is the solution to all of Kino’s problems – he and Juana can get married and have a wedding, they can buy new clothes, and most importantly, they can send Coyotito to school where he can learn to read and write and have a future that they never dreamed possible.

Of course, it’s never that simple is it?  Along with these dreams comes more want, and need, and greed.  And sadly for Kino and his family, that greed extended throughout the community…and as we have seen time and time again, when humans want something badly enough, they will do anything to achieve it.

Although Steinbeck’s novels are written almost for younger adults, his underlining themes often have a dark streak that climax to a horrific ending.  The Pearl is no different.  However, for such a brutal ending (that somehow seemed inevitable right from the beginning), and despite its short length, it is a novel that will stick with you long after it has been completed.

Have you read The Pearl?  Are you a fan of John Steinbeck?  Let me know!

the pearl by john steinbeck

The Pearl – (image taken from http://www.bibliomantics.files.wordpress.com)

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