The Pearl

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Overview

“There it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon.”
 
Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull's egg, as "perfect as the ...

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The Pearl

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Overview

“There it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon.”
 
Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull's egg, as "perfect as the moon." With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and of security....

A story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl explores the secrets of man's nature, the darkest depths of evil, and the luminous possibilities of love.

For the diver Kino, finding a magnificent pearl means the promise of a better life for his impoverished family. His dreams blind him to the greed that the pearl arouses in him and his neighbors. Baring the fallacy of the American dream--that wealth erases all problems--Steinbeck's classic illustrates our fall from innocence.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Kino, a poor Mexican pearl fisher, finds a valuable pearl. Yet instead of bringing blessings, the pearl acts as a harbinger of misfortune to Kino and his wife, Juana. Ultimately, it is returned from whence it came. Steinbeck's parable, originally published in 1947, is a well-written retelling of an old Mexican folktale. Hector Elizondo, with his fine voice and great diction, reads with sincerity, keeping this simple, tragic tale moving toward its inevitable conclusion. Highly recommended for all collections.-Denise A. Garofalo, Mid-Hudson Lib. System, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
From the Publisher
“[The Pearl] has the distinction and sincerity that are evident in everything he writes.”—The New Yorker

“Form is the most important thing about him. It is at its best in this work.” —Commonweal

“[Steinbeck has] long trained his prose style for such a task as this: that supple unstrained, muscular power, responsive to the slightest pull of the reins.”—Chicago Sunday Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871296948
  • Publisher: Dramatic Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 12/1/1975
  • Pages: 76

Meet the Author

John Steinbeck
JOHN STEINBECK (1902—1968) was born in Salinas, California. He worked as a laborer and a journalist, and in 1935, when he published Tortilla Flat, he achieved popular success and financial security. Steinbeck wrote more than twenty-five novels and won the Nobel Prize in 1962.
Robert DeMott is the Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor at Ohio University and the author of Steinbeck's Typewriter, an award-winning book of critical essays.
Gary Scharnhorst is professor of English at the University of New Mexico. He is the editor of books by Bret Harte and John De Forest for Penguin Classics.
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    1. Also Known As:
      Amnesia Glasscock
      John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (full name); Amnesia Glasscock
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 27, 1902
    2. Place of Birth:
      Salinas, California
    1. Date of Death:
      December 20, 1968
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
When John Steinbeck accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, he described the writer's obligation as "dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement." For some critics, that purpose has obscured Steinbeck's literary value. He has been characterized variously as an advocate of socialist-style solutions to the depredations of capitalism, a champion of individualism, a dabbler in sociobiology, and a naturalist.

While evidence for different political and philosophical stances may be culled from Steinbeck's writings, a reader who stops at this point misses some of the most interesting aspects of his work, including his use of paradox. "Men is supposed to think things out," insists Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. "It ought to have some meaning" (p. 55). But in this epic novel, as well as in Of Mice and Men and The Pearl, Steinbeck seems to question whether the mysteries of human existence can ever be fully explained. In these works that span the grim decade from 1937 to 1947, Steinbeck urges the dispossessed to challenge a system that denies them both sustenance and dignity, and to seek the spiritual belonging that enables individuals to achieve their full humanity. So we have the paradox of the author apparently denouncing injustice while also exalting acceptance of the sorrows visited on humanity, whether those sorrows are wrought by nature or by humans themselves.

All three books examine the morality and necessity of actions the characters choose as they pursue their dreams. The poor fisherman Kino in The Pearl dreams of education for his son and salvation for his people. We first meet him in the dimness before dawn, listening to the sounds of his wife, Juana, at her chores, which merge in his mind with the ancestral Song of the Family. "In this gulf of uncertain light [where] there were more illusions than realities" (p. 19), the pearl that Kino finds lights the way to a more just world and the end of centuries of mistreatment by white colonizers. But the promise of wealth manifests the archetypal evil hidden in the community's unconscious, like the pearl that had lain hidden in its oyster at the bottom of the sea. As the dream turns dark, Kino descends into violence, bringing death to four men and ultimately to his own son. What other choices might he have made? This parable raises questions about our relationship to nature, the human need for spiritual connection, and the cost of resisting injustice.

Steinbeck's most controversial work, The Grapes of Wrath, raises similar questions. During the Dust Bowl Era, three generations of the Joad family set out on the road, seeking a decent life in fertile California and joining thousands of others bound by an experience that transforms them from "I" to "we" (p. 152). Cooperation springs up among them spontaneously, in sharp contrast with the ruthlessness of big business and the sad choices made by its victims, for whom "a fella got to eat" (p. 344) is a continual refrain. Casy, the preacher turned strike leader, wonders about the "one big soul ever'body's a part of" (p. 24).

On their journey to the promised land, the characters in The Grapes of Wrath confront enigmatic natural forces and dehumanizing social institutions. Casy is martyred as he takes a stand for farmers who have lost their land to drought and are brutally exploited as migrant laborers. His disciple Tom Joad, who served time for killing a man in a bar fight, ultimately kills another man he believes responsible for Casy's death. Tom's passionate conviction—expressed in his assertion that "wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there" (p. 419)—stirs our sympathy; but his dilemma, like Kino's, requires us to ask whether taking a human life can ever be justified.

The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl are also linked by their female characters and the questions they raise about gender roles and family identity. In The Pearl, Juana's "quality of woman, the reason, the caution, the sense of preservation, could cut through Kino's manness and save them all" (p. 59). Is this quality most responsible for the return of the pearl to the sea at the end of the novel? Like Juana, Ma Joad is "the citadel of the family" (p. 74). As the remnants of the Joad family seek refuge in a barn at the close of The Grapes of Wrath, Ma's daughter Rose of Sharon nurses a starving stranger with milk meant for her dead baby. This final scene of female nurturing offers a resolution while also disturbing our long-held ideas about family.

Steinbeck departs from this depiction of women in Of Mice and Men. Confined to her husband's home, and never given a name in the novel, Curley's wife functions almost as a force of nature, precipitating the events that wreck the men's "best laid schemes," as poet Robert Burns wrote. Whereas the women in The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl suggest hope even in the bleakest of circumstances, Curley's wife leaves only shattered dreams in her wake.

Of Mice and Men tells a tightly compressed story set during the Great Depression. George and Lennie, drifters and friends in a landscape of loners, scrape by with odd jobs while dreaming of the time they'll "live on the fatta the lan'" (p. 101). Lennie has a massive body and limited intelligence, and his unpredictable behavior casts George as his protector. The novel is peopled with outcasts—a black man, a cripple, a lonely woman. The terror of the consequences of infirmity and old age in an unresponsive world is underscored when a laborer's old dog is shot. Is Lennie's similar death at the hands of his protector, with his dream before his eyes, preferable to what the future holds for him? Nearly all the characters share in some version of the dream, recited almost ritualistically, and in their narrow world it is pitifully small: "All kin's a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We'd jus' live there. We'd belong there" (p. 54).

The ending appears to be at odds with Steinbeck's explicit exhortations for social change in the other two novels. In Of Mice and Men, he seems to appeal to a higher form of wisdom in the character of Slim, who does not aspire to anything beyond the sphere he occupies. His "understanding beyond thought" (p. 31) echoes Rose of Sharon's mysterious smile at the end ofThe Grapes of Wrath.

From the questions his characters pose about what it means to be fully human, Steinbeck may be understood to charge literature with serving not only as a call to action, but as an expression and acceptance of paradox in our world. "There is something untranslatable about a book," he wrote. "It is itself—one of the very few authentic magics our species has created."

ABOUT JOHN STEINBECK

John Steinbeck's groundbreaking and often controversial work, with its eye on the common people, earned him both high praise and sharp criticism. In addition to his novels, Steinbeck produced newspaper and travel articles, short stories, plays, and film scripts.

Born in 1902 in Salinas, California, Steinbeck spent much of his life in surrounding Monterey county, the setting for some of his books. His experience as a young man working menial jobs, including as a farm laborer, ranch hand, and factory worker, was transformed into descriptions of the lives of his working-class characters. After attending Stanford University intermittently for six years, Steinbeck traveled by freighter to New York, where he worked briefly as a journalist before returning to California.

His first novel, Cup of Gold, appeared in 1929, but it was Tortilla Flat (1935), his picaresque tale of Monterey's paisanos, that first brought Steinbeck serious recognition. Of Mice and Men (1937) was also well received. The Grapes of Wrath (1939), a book many claim is his masterpiece, was both critically acclaimed and denounced for its strong language and apparent leftist politics. Always shunning publicity, Steinbeck headed for Mexico in 1940, where he made The Forgotten Village, a documentary film about conditions in rural Mexico. He spent the war years as a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, for which he later toured the Soviet Union in 1947; he also wrote the novel The Moon Is Down (1942), about Norwegian resistance to the Nazis.

Steinbeck's other notable works of fiction include The Pearl (1947), East of Eden (1952), and The Winter of Our Discontent(1961). He also wrote a memoir of a cross-country trip with his poodle, Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962). Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He died in New York in 1968. His work stands as testament to his commitment to "celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Why can neither Kino nor Juana protect their baby from the scorpion?
     
  2. Why could Kino kill the doctor more easily than talk to him?
     
  3. Why is it important to Juana that Kino be the one to throw the pearl back into the sea?
     
  4. Why does Kino think the killing of a man is not as evil as the killing of a boat?
     
  5. What does the narrator mean when he says, "A town is a thing like a colonial animal" (p. 21)?
     
  6. Why does the music of the pearl change?
     
  7. Why does Kino come to feel that he will lose his soul if he gives up the pearl?
     
  8. Why does Tomás help Kino?
     
  9. Why does Juana feel the events following the pearl's discovery may all have been an illusion?
     
  10. What is the significance of Juana and Kino's walking side by side when they return to the town?

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

  1. Did Kino do the right thing in demanding a fair price for the pearl, even if it meant leaving his community?
     
  2. Why does Steinbeck choose the parable as the form for this story?

RELATED TITLES

The Grapes of Wrath

John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer (1925)
The alienating effects of capitalism, technology, and urbanization are portrayed in this montage of life in New York City.

Tomás Rivera,... y no se lo trag— la tierra/... (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him) (1971)
A seminal work of Latino literature, these thirteen vignettes embodying the anonymous voice of "the people" depict the exploitation of Mexican American migrant workers.

Émile Zola, Germinal (1885)
The striking miners in this nineteenth-century tale of class struggle are cast as the victims of both an unjust social system and their own human weaknesses.

The Pearl

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
Winner of the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this novella tells the story of an old fisherman's endurance as he pursues, captures, and ultimately loses a great marlin.

D. H. Lawrence, "The Rocking-Horse Winner" (in The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories) (1928)
This fablelike short story follows a boy to his tragic end as he desperately tries to respond to his family's obsession with money.

Of Mice and Men

Frank Norris, McTeague (1899)
In this pioneering naturalistic novel set in California, a man of large physical but small intellectual powers pursues a dream beyond menial tasks, but is corrupted by "civilization."

Leo Tolstoy, "Master and Man" (in Master and Man and Other Stories) (1895)
The relationship between a greedy landowner and his gentle laborer undergoes a dramatic change in this novella when the two are trapped in a snowstorm.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 442 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(141)

4 Star

(114)

3 Star

(72)

2 Star

(49)

1 Star

(66)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 443 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 26, 2012

    I enjoyed it for the most part

    In the book The Pearl by John Steinbeck, the main character Kino faces a dilemma after finding a pearl in the ocean. Kino and his wife live in a little village and, one day while diving, Kino spots something shiny stuck on a rock. Kino realizes it is a pearl and he chips it off of the rock. At first Kino didnt believe that there would really be a pearl in such a shell, but sure enough he opens it up and sees the pearl inside. The news spreads around the village and every one wants to see it. Village members, including friends of the family, are willing to do anything to get their hands on this pearl because of the wealth and power it would potentially bring them. Soon after the discovery Kino's son, Coyotito, is stung by a scorpion and soon becomes ill and Kino and his wife take him to the doctor in the city. When the guard at the gate sees the family approaching, he tells them the doctor is not there. The guard says this beacuse he sees that Kino will have no way of paying the doctor, until Kino tells him about the pearl. The doctor goes to Kino's house and "cures" Coyotito. After everyone has heard about the pearl Kino begins hearing things stirring in the night next to his hut and goes out to see what is causing the noise. This occurs twice in the story, and both times, Kino comes back covered in blood. Juanita, Kino's wife, knows that the pearl is no good and may even be evil. One night Juanita becomes so fed up with the pearl that she takes it and tries to throw it back into the ocean but Kino was driven by anger and beats her when he sees this happeneing. Overall, there are lots of tragic incidents in this story and the pearl brings nothing but problems, pain, death and the loss of family itself. The theme I see fit for this story is that basically, money and power can drive you to go to impossible measures, and that in the end, it isnt worth all of the strain it causes a person.

    16 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Classic

    The Pearl is a classic by the excellent writer, John Steinbeck. A simple story, yet filled with dramatic characters and events that kept me flipping the pages. One of the best aspects of The Pearl is the writing. John Steinbeck's writing is untouchable and classic. I loved the Pearl and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a classic book that shows culture and the value of materials and wealth over love.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 2, 2011

    Stuped

    Stuped book never get it

    8 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors.

    The Pearl is an excellent tale--one of my favorites. It's a simple classic that explores the depths of man's darkest nature. The protagonist, Kino, is a young, poor pearler in tune with family and nature, but a tragic event exemplifies his discontent with life's meager offering for his oppressed little village. Kino's luck dramatically improves when he finds the Pearl of the World. Yet the Pearl summons the evil spirit of mankind, instead of bringing the fortune Kino desires. Kino subsequently becomes suspicious of almost everyone, including his loving wife, for those who covet the Pearl will do anything to steal it. Will Kino successfully protect his family and sell the Pearl before those who covet it catch him? Is he willing to risk everything to improve his stake in life?

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2011

    Not the biggest fan

    Why does the most innocent person in the book always have to die? It's just too sad.

    5 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2013

    This book stinks, the baby got shot 

    This book stinks, the baby got shot 

    4 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2012

    Worst book I've ever read

    This book was TERRIBLE! If i could give it zero stars i would

    4 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2012

    The pearl

    This book was terrible! I dont know why people say its a classic. The only reason i finished it was because i had to do a report on it. The baby was killed supposedly as a punishment for greed. But the dad wasnt greedy! He just wanted to make things better for his family

    DO NOT BUY!!!

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012

    Ick

    It was so boring

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012

    Interesting

    Upon being required to read this book for a school assignment, i was not looking forward to studying this story. After completing this book, I must say it was better than I thought it would be. This is a book you could put on your summer reading list for new things to try. I gave this book a three because it was extremely short and not quite my style.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Bad

    I didnt like it..... it was stupid when coyotito had to die. I mean why couldnt kino pay back for his sin instead of having his baby die?

    3 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2008

    A Major Disappointment

    I disliked this book greatly. I had to read this book for school and found it highly unreal and boring. The main character isn't very smart and the ending is very saddening. Avoid this book if possible.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2013

    U

    It was boring. I had to read it 4 school :/

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2012

    STUPID STUPID STUPID!!!!!

    Are teacher made us do a report on it an read it it sucked. Who wants to read about a shot baby. Its boring as all crap! I hate this book! SO DOES PRACTICALY ANY MIDDLE TO HIGHSCHOOL OR EVEN ELEMENTARY KID! My 3 year old sister who i read it too exclaimed "Sissy i dont like it!" Well i can conclude this stuff is *#&#--$*%-#-$&"!

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2012

    It really is a good book

    This book is really good buy it. There is a hidden message though so keep a look out

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2012

    Not so great...

    The Pearl, by John Steinbeck is a short 90pg novel. This is the story of Kino, Juana and their infant son, a poor Indian family who makes their living diving for pearls in the ocean near to their home (hut). One day while diving Kino uncovers the pearl of his dreams, The Great Pearl. Upon discovery of this pearl Kino and Juana's lives would change forever because of the greed the people in the area have in their hearts. Village members, including friends of the family, are willing to do anything to get their hands on this pearl because of the wealth it would potentially bring them. Though this story does contain many literary devises, like the use of music to set the mood in most scenes, i would not recommend it. This story seems to be very drawn out and could have been told better in a matter of 30pgs as compared to the 90 that it filled. I personally hated the ending of this story and that is one of the reasons I have such a poor opinion of it. This book is well written but simply could not keep my attention.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2009

    Yet another Steinbeck classic

    I have to say that the more I read Steinbeck, the more this man is quickly becoming one of if not my favorite author. The story is the definition of greed and the evils that come with it. Kino is a poor diver that finds the fortune of a lifetime in a giant sized pearl while diving during his every day job. Kino at this point thinks he will be rich and all his problems solved. However the pearl brings noting but problems, pain,death and the loss of family itself. It is a short basic stpory some 90+ pages but the story basic and the characters perfect for this setting. Again, another Steinbeck novel I would strongly urge readers(especially Steinbeck fans) to read. I finished it in less than a day. DNC.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2009

    A great piece of literature

    When you read The Pearl, don't read it at face value or you'll be disappointed that it's a frustrating story with a sad ending. I found it to be loosely based on the parable in the bible "The Pearl of Great Price". The Pearl, by Steinbeck is an allegory depicting the many facets of the human condition and the mistaken belief that financial gain is the ultimate road to happiness, comfort and fulfillment in this life. But I found the under-lining story line to be a reminder that when we throw "our nets" out into the world in search of treasure, remember to sift through it and consider where it may take you.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Simple Yet Enjoyable Read

    The Pearl is the first John Steinbeck novel I have read, and Pearl has given me good first impressions on Steinbeck's writing. The Pearl is a a very simple yet amazing book. There are many biblical parallels. Steinbeck does a fantastic job revealing human nature through Kino by his desire for wealth, and the expectations of happiness.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2007

    couldn't even read the first paragraph

    yawn...i haven't even finished it but im not exactly encouraged to. i have to read this for school and it already sounds completely pointless. it's a total waste of my summer days, but whatever.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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