The Novelette, ‘The Pearl’ was written by John Steinbeck in 1944. Steinbeck is a magnificent author who uses dramatic, narrative and musical themes all together . e. g. the song of evil and the song of family to convey his idea effectively. He is able to attain an effect on the reader without lengthy details on emotions, places etc. All his novels are set in Salinas Valley and the main themes of his novels are on man versus nature and how man abuses it. Drama, visual effects and music all blend together in Steinbeck’s novel making it an all time classic.
The Pearl’ is the story about Kino (Main character & Mexican pearl diver) who is the leader of his tribe. In the story he goes on to finding a pearl, which affects him greatly. ‘The pearl of the world’ gives him dreams of wealth and prosperity but all this changes when things don’t turn out the way he planned them to. The pearl gives him suffering and brings out the evil in man. At the beginning of the novel we see the Mexicans’ oneness with nature as they made songs about it which brought them happiness. The fisherfolk’s lives were very simple as they lived in poverty and yet they enjoyed the fruits of nature.
They lived in brush houses and ate simple food like ‘hot corn-cake’. Their sense of unity in the family is shown as they hardly communicate through words because they know what and how one another thinks. (Page 10)- “They had spoken once, but there is not need for speech if it is only a habit anyway”. Songs were important in their culture as they linked everything to music. The tribe was so closely united and were always ready to help each other. We see this when all the neighbors assist Kino when he takes Coyotito to the doctor for the scorpion bite as a child was a most important thing in life.
Another example of closeness is when the tribe goes with Kino to sell the pearl as it a historic event as one of their members are going to get a lot of money. This all shows the loyalty of the neighbors. The tribe is superstitious and at the same time religious, as it is shown to us when Juana prays and chants magic at the same time when seeing the scorpion. They had experience in treating the dangers of nature . e. g. scorpion bites. Both Kino and Juana are superstitious and this is evident when they find the pearl of the world, they hid excitement and the pageant God’s were angry at them.
The only thing that made the tribe unhappy was the white’s treatment towards them which they thought was unjust. The whites brought fear and distrust . e. g. the way the doctor looks after and treats the rich rather than the poor. The poor lived in brush houses while the rich lived in stone and plaster houses. The whites poison the minds of the tribe as they are victims of ignorance and illiteracy. They were made to believe that their remedies were inferior to those of the white when in most cases they were not.
The corrupted values of the whites are seen when the doctor misuses his skills and knowledge to make the baby sick instead of curing him. There is also ill-treatment of the beggars; we see this when they don’t help Kino in finding a doctor and they feel it is a source of entertainment when a fisherman comes for help in the city. Eg:(When Kino wants to find a doctor for his son as he got bitten by a scorpion, and instead of the beggars helping Kino finding one, they made fun of him) The irony is that the beggars have no dignity compared to the fishermen who work for a living.
When the tribe found the pearl they never thought of riches, only things that will help them where as compared to the whites they only thought of riches and themselves e. g. the doctor was fond of rich silk and expensive clothes compared to the fisher folks who just wore rags. Here a sense of irony is shown as the fisher folks are the white’s main source of income and despite this, they still feel disgusted by the fisher folks. The priest was also a disgrace to religion as he too only thought about himself and riches as they wanted materialistic things.
We also see how the whites treat their culture as to be very inferior and at the same time exploit them because the tribe is illiterate. Kino represents all the men in the tribe, he was the head of the family and showed the superiority of men e. g. when he eats first in his family and makes decisions. He is a protective father. This is evident when we see him confront the three trackers and when he tries to save his son from the scorpion bite. We see how the pearl changes him from a dependable, hard working man to a man who wants power.
The main thing of a man is to have a canoe, as it was a sign of life. The tribe was of fishermen and they depend on canoe to fish in. Here we see Kino’s loyalty to the family and family possessions as we see how he valued his canoe which he got from his grandfather-(Kino’s grandfather had brought it from Nayarit, and he had given it to Kino’s father, and so it had come to Kino) This is how the canoe is passed down from generation to generation.. A canoe was passed down from ancestors and without one they wouldn’t be able to get married as it would be hard to support a family.
The canoe was a symbol of livelihood, prosperity, independence and survival. Many things were passed down from generations such as Pearl diving, fishing and use of seaweed for remedies. Kino’s life is focused on his family whom he loved a lot. His love for Juana is shown when he wants the pearl to help them in getting married. The closeness and the sense of brotherly unity between Kino and his brother Tomas, they gain from the values of their forefathers, as we see how Tomas advises him about the pearl and also helps Kino when the pearl brings bad luck to him.
Kino shows his care for the races when he wants the pearl to bring prosperity to the tribe rather than to himself alone we see how he wants education for his son as with education they wouldn’t be victims to the whites, he wants his son to spread knowledge and understanding to his tribe in the future through the things he learned. Kino is a skilled fighter where his response to danger is fierce and quick. It is a primitive instinct of the tribe. He is known as a ‘noble savage’; he is uncorrupted by a false coating of civilization that we see through the behavior and character of the doctor, priest and the pearl trader.
The primitive violent reaction is shown when he attacks the thief that comes and robs him and when he murders one of the attackers in self-defense. When Kino finds a big hole in his canoe there is anger and deep sorrow as without a canoe a man is helpless. He is like a machine when he flees from the attacker to high ground like an instinct of an animal. There is stubborn courage in Kino; he displays a tragic courage for he is a man opposing all the forces against him. We see Kino is a man constant struggle against any prison that binds him.
We see at the end of the story Kino’s emotion when he loses his son and everything he owns because of the evil pearl and so a result he throws the pearl where it belongs. The situation of Kino could have happened to anyone in the tribe as all he imagined was that everyone would share his joy, but he was wrong. Juana represents all the females in the tribe as a woman’s character was obedient and respected. Her femininity was shown when she waits for Kino to finish eating and then she would start eating. She respected her husband by making him choose decisions.
Juana is an ideal partner for Kino like her instincts when she wants to throw the pearl, and by showing unquestionable loyalty by wanting to stay with Kino and refuses to leave him even though it meant life or death for her and her baby. She shows strength when Kino is weakened by the evil of the pearl. Because of this action Kino draws strength to her loyalty. When Kino said to Juana ‘I am a man’ he meant that he was ‘half insane’ and ‘half god’ and she knew in her woman’s soul that the forces of nature and society would crush him in the end, yet she needed such a man.
Sometimes the female makes decisions for the men as a desperate measure like when she tells Kino to throw away the pearl. Both Kino and Juana were superstitious when finding the pearl and hence both of them suffered from the evil it brought as their simplicity and gullibility made them unaware about the pearls poison and the pain it brought as they suffered a terrible loss and were neglected by society. ‘The dream Kino conjured from its shiny surface was to bring sorrow and death, as too much good luck gave them something bad at the end. But at last he had learnt his lesson and throws the pearl back into the sea where it belongs.
There is always a limit to which you can make use of something. Once you begin to abuse it you pay the consequences and this is what happened. Culture is a very important aspect of life as not only is it a symbol/identity but it is also something which no body can take away from you as it becomes part of you. Every culture has its own occasions, celebrations, beliefs, dress etc. In “The Pearl” John Steinbeck used Kino and Juana very specifically to portray the importance of culture and the way things go about in a particular culture. Eg: the way the canoe was passed down from generation to generation etc. Show preview only