Introduction to The Pearl
A short novelette, The Pearl, is considered a masterpiece of the phrase-coiner, John Steinbeck. The story was published in 1947. The story explores man’s defiant behavior against accepted social conventions. It also is a perfect example of greed in human nature and the consequences. The story revolves around a Mexican-Indian fisherman, who finds the biggest pearl, and wants to sell it in the capital city to get a huge amount in return to pay his debts and become a rich man in La Paz, the Mexican town. The story is stated to have originated from Mexican folk tales and was also set as a popular movie, La Perla in 1947.
Summary of The Pearl
The story is set in La Paz, Mexico. Kino, his wife Juana, and their infant son, Coyotito. They live in a simple and peaceful life in a hut by the seashore. Kino is involved in diving and angling, which is his source of livelihood. One day, Kino is watching while Coyotito is asleep. He sees the scorpion and tries to catch it. Unfortunately, the scorpion falls on him. Kino kills the scorpion, but it stings the baby. Juana and Kino go to see the local doctor. The doctor is a greedy man and refuses to treat Coyotito because Kino cannot pay his fee.
Disappointed Kino and Juana take Coyotito to the seashore. Juana prepares a poultice from seaweeds. The baby’s condition continues to become worse. Kino dives for searching for oysters and hopes to find pearls. After a long search, he finds a very large oyster. Surprisingly when Kino opens the oyster, he finds a large pearl. Kino can’t contain his happiness and howls like a wolf with joy. This reaction grabs the attention of other divers and they gather around Kino.
Once the news of Kino’s find travels throughout the town. The greedy doctor who had sent them away without treating Coyotito visit Kino after knowing about the pearl. On another side, Kino’s neighbors are jealous of his fortune. Sadly, Kino and Juana are not aware of the neighbors and the possible danger to their peaceful life. Juan Tomas, Kino’s brother asks him about his plan with the money he would get from the pearl.
Kino dreams about getting married to Juana in a church. While the ceremony is going on, Coyotito is cutely dressed in a yachting cap and sailor suit. Kino hopes to send Coyotito to school and also purchase a rifle for himself. One day, the local priest visits Kino and tells him to offer his thanks and ask God for guidance. The greedy doctor also continues to visit using Coyotito as an excuse. The baby keeps getting better but the doctor insists that Coyotito is in danger and needs treatment. Kino agrees and informs the doctor that he can only pay after he sells the pearl. The doctor tries to get the hints and look for the pearl in Kino’s house. He is not aware that Kino has buried it in the corner of his hut. On the same night, a thief enters Kino’s hut. Kino is able to drive him away. Juana who is shaken by the entire experience, warns Kino that the pearl is not meant to be with them. She believes it will destroy them, but Kino convinces her that the pearl is their one chance. He promises to sell it the next day.
Kino’s neighbors are jealous and they are eager to know about the pearl and Kino’s plans. They tell him to give the pearl to the Pope as a gift, including conducting the prayers for his family’s souls and sharing the amount with the needy people of La Paz. Kino takes his neighbors along with him to sell his pearl. However, when the dealer offers a thousand pesos, Kino thinks the pearl is much more valuable and should get at least fifty thousand pesos. Most dealers check the pearl and quote a similar rate. Hence, Kino doesn’t take their offer. Then he decides to go to the capital city to sell the pearl. That same night, Kino is attacked by thieves once again. Juana begs Kino to see that the pearl is an evil thing and is putting them in danger. Sadly, Kino refuses to listen to her and tells her that he would not let people cheat him.
The same night, Juana takes the pearl and tries to throw it into the ocean. Kino catches her before she can do that and punishes her. After a while, few men attack Kino, knocking the pearl from his hand. Kino kills one of the men as Juana watches from a distance. He tells her that they must leave their home. While the murder was an act of self-defense, Kino believes that he will be charged for it. Their escape plan is jeopardized as his canoe is damaged. To their shock, Kino’s house destroyed and set on fire. Kino and Juana hide at Juan Tomas and his wife, Apolonia’s home. The next night, they leave for the capital city.
Kino and Juana continue to hide during the day, escaping attention and travel night. They hide in a cave after seeing a group of sheep trackers. To avoid further attention, Kino removes his clothing too. In the cave, the trackers imagine that they hear a coyote pup. They shoot in that direction. Kino finds the three trackers and kills them too. When Kino returns he doesn’t hear Coyotito’s voice or cry. Instead, he hears Juana’s cry of death. Kino realizes that Coyotito has died from one of the shots of the trackers. Heartbroken, Juana and Kino return to La Paz. Kino takes a rifle from one of the dead trackers as Juana is holding Coyotito’s lifeless body. When they are near the gulf, Kino Coyotito’s head blown away like a pearl. Finally, Kino comes to know that the pearl was indeed evil and throws it into the ocean and sigh in relief.
Major Themes in The Pearl
- Family: Family and man’s efforts for its preservation is the major theme of the novel, The Pearl. Kino and Juana want their son to recover from the scorpion’s sting and want to pay everything they had to the physician. When they find the large pearl, they plan most about their son and the preservation of the family. Hence, Kino takes risks in getting more money, than he is offered in the town. Even the murders of the trackers, prove his desire of keeping his family safe and keep his son’s welfare at the top.
- Wealth as a Bad Omen: When Kino does not have wealth, he lives a happy life with his wife and son, Coyotito. However, as soon as he gets the pearl, he starts facing trouble such as getting nearly robbed and killed until he decides to throw the pearl in the same place he had found it. Thus hoping for the same satisfaction and peace of mind he used to live with before finding the pearl. Therefore, according to Juana, the pearl is a symbol of the arrival of wealth which is has been painted as a bad omen or a sign of bad luck.
- Paradox: This thematic strand appears when Kino finds a pearl through his hard work and thinks that it would bring good luck. Instead, it brings destruction and bad luck for him. Death is lurking everywhere while robbers are on the lookout of his pearl. This proves rather a paradox that instead of resolving his issues, it has created more troubles for him.
- Perseverance: Several characters in The Pearl demonstrate the theme of perseverance. For example, Kino displays it in keeping the pearl with him waiting for a better price, while his wife has had to fight with him to throw it away to escape the bad luck chasing them. The trackers, too, show perseverance in chasing them unless they get killed.
- Greed: The novel also sheds light on the theme of human greed through the character of Kino as well as the physician who asks for more money to treat Coyotito, while Kino asks for more price of the pearl to fulfill his dreams. Despite repeatedly occurring incidents demonstrating their bad luck after he finds the pearl, Kino refuses to listen to his wife or abandon the pearl. It is because of his greed that he does not want to give it up and loses his son on that journey.
- Gender: The significance of gender in the Mexican coastal regions is another thematic strand that runs parallel to several other themes in the novel. There are just a couple of female characters; Juana, his wife, and Apolonia, the wife of his neighbor. However, both of these characters are secondary. Here, Juana fails to convince Kino to throw away the pearl, while Apolonia’s character, too, is subservient to her husband, Juan Tomas.
- Primitivity: The Pearl also shows the primitivity of human nature in that despite having learned things, man is still prone to follow his primitive nature of saving himself and his progeny. Kino tries his best to benefit from the pearl in terms of making others be at his beck and call but fails.
- Power: Kino is aware that with money comes power, he also knows that others will try to snatch away his power. This is transformed into bad luck. Hence, Juana asks him to abandon the search for power by throwing the pearl back into the sea. However, Kino knows that with the pearl gone, he would not have any power left to do anything. When his son dies, he abandons the pearl and relinquishes the power, which could not save his son.
- Man and Nature: The Pearl also sheds light on the nature of man and his importance in the world of nature. Kino fails to fight against all the forces of nature. Despite his stubborn nature and persistence, including refusal to his wife’s plea, Kino has to learn that man can never win against nature.
Major Characters in The Pearl
- Kino: Kino is the protagonist and the central character of the novel, The Pearl. He is a Mexican-Indian and a professional pearl diver who works for others and owns a canoe. When his son, Coyotito, suffers scorpion stinging, he does everything to save him from the pain and torture, but cannot afford to pay the town physician for his son’s treatment. When he fishes out a large pearl, he begins to face troubles. In the end, he has to throw the pearl after losing his son, becoming a criminal for murdering robbers and the trackers.
- Juana: Juana is Kino’s wife and stays with him. She stands by Kino until the end despite losing her son, Coyotito. After the first robbery, she suggests Kino sell the pearl as soon as possible and also believes that the pearl will bring evil. She tries her best to save her son and her husband. However, Kino accepts her suggestion and throws the pearl back into the ocean, but it is already too late.
- Coyotito: He is a young child of Kino and Juana. A scorpion stings him and he is taken to the doctor. However, the greedy doctor refuses to treat him as Kino may not be able to afford his fees. Later Juana’s home remedy helps Coyotito heal from the sting. When Kino and Juana are on the run, the story takes a tragic turn. He is killed when the trackers fire shots in the air to scare Kino.
- The Doctor: The doctor is greedy and a shame to his profession. He refuses to treat Coyotito when a scorpion stings him. However, when he comes to know about the biggest pearl, he reaches their home, treats the boy, and promises to return shortly after demanding his heavy fees. Here the doctor must be a Caucasian. The doctor occasionally expresses his desire to leave for Paris with the heavy fees he tries to collect from his patients.
- Juan Tomas: He is the brother of Kino, who warns Kino that the pearl might bring serious repercussions on their simple lifestyle. He, along with his wife, hides the couple, when Kino kills one of the robbers.
- Apolonia: She is Juan Tomas’s wife. A kind woman, who along with her husband extends shelter to Kino and his wife when both of them confront robbers after Kino kills one of them.
- Pearl Dealers: Most of them are locals and have conspired to purchase Kino’s biggest pearl at the least price. When he brings his pearl to them, they only offer him 1,000 pesos to which he refuses.
- Robbers and Trackers: There are several anonymous robbers and trackers in the novel who occasionally appear to harass and snatch the pearl from Kino. One of them is killed during the first scuffle at home. Kino also kills three trackers on their way to the capital.
Writing Style of The Pearl
The language of the novel, The Pearl, is not only simple but also straightforward. John Steinbeck has used narrative to show the characters and their motives, keeping dialogs minimum. It could be called a fabular style, for he has adopted this fable to transform it into a novella in which he has succeeded.
Analysis of Literary Devices in The Pearl
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises Kino’s finding of the Pearl of the World. The rising action occurs when he faces robbers and kills one of them. The falling action occurs when he kills three of the trackers, finds his son Coyotito dead, and returns home resigned at the fate with the resolution of throwing away the pearl.
- Allegory: The Pearl shows the use of allegory in the novel through its characters in that Kino is a symbol of independence, while the doctor represents rapacity and greed. The dealers are blackmailers of the society, while Juan Tomas shows the ancient wisdom, and Kino and his wife also shows the spirit of the story of the human being: Adam and Eve.
- Antagonist: Although it seems that the robbers and trackers are the main antagonists of The Pearl, it is the Pearl of the Wisdom that becomes the antagonist for Kino, as it shows how it has bred greed and hostility among others when they see Kino getting tons of wealth.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel, The Pearl. The first allusion is of the Gospel of Matthew as the storyline resembles the parable of the pearl. The second allusion of the storyline resembles the story of Adam and Eve. Kino’s love for the pearl and resulting money is also a reference to Timothy 6:1. It means that The Pearl has various Biblical allusions.
- Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel, The Pearl. The first one is the external conflict that starts between Kino and the people who are against his getting the wealth. The second conflict is in his mind about its being evil that Kino’s wife has stated, and it resolves when he finally throws it in the sea.
- Characters: The Pearl presents both static as well as dynamic characters or round ones. Kino, though, seems the protagonist, is not the dynamic character; his brother, Juan Tomas, is rather the dynamic character, while all others are static or flat including Kino, as they do not change themselves in the contexts. Only Juan proves unpredictable.
- Climax: The climax takes place when Kino kills one of the robbers after they attack him. This climax again appears when he kills all the trackers and subsides after he decides to return home when he sees that his only son is dead.
- Foreshadowing: There are various examples of foreshadowing in the novel. For example,
i. “Hush,” said Kino. “Do not speak any more. In the morning we will sell the pearl, and then the evil will be gone, and only the good remain. Now hush, my wife.” His dark eyes scowled into the little fire, and for the first time he knew that his knife was still in his hands, and he raised the blade and looked at it and saw a little line of blood on the steel. (Chapter-III)
ii. Coyotito: The very name of their son is a use of a good foreshadowing which alludes to coyote.
iii. Song: Whenever Kino hears some song, he senses that something bad is going to happen to his family.
iv. Juana’s realization of the pearl as a bad omen for the family.
- Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs in the novel at different places. For example,
i. She froze with terror for a moment, and then her lips drew back from her teeth like a cat’s lips. (Chapter-IV)
ii. His heart thundered in his chest and his hands and face were wet with sweat. (Chapter-VI)
Both of these examples show how emotions have been exaggerated.
- Imagery: The novel shows very good examples of imagery. For example,
i. Kino awakened in the near dark. The stars still shone and the day had drawn only a pale wash of light in the lower sky to the east. The roosters had been crowing for some time, and the early pigs were already beginning their ceaseless turning of twigs and bits of wood to see whether anything to eat had been overlooked. Outside the brush house in the tuna clump, a covey of little birds chittered and flurried with their wings. (Chapter-1)
ii. Kino lifted the flesh, and there it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon. It captured the light and refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence. It was as large as a sea-gull’s egg. It was the greatest pearl in the world. (Chapter-II)
The first example shows images of color, sound, and sight, while the second shows the images of touch as well as sight.
- Metaphor: The Pearl shows good use of various metaphors. For example,
i. The dawn came quickly now, a wash, a glow, a lightness, and then an explosion of fire as the sun arose out of the Gulf۔ (Chapter-1)
ii. A town is a thing like a colonial animal. A town has a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet. A town is a thing separate from all other towns, so that there are no two towns alike. (Chapter-II)
iii. All manner of people grew interested in Kino. (Chapter-III)
These three short examples of metaphors show John Steinbeck comparing the dawn with an explosion, the town with the animal, and manners with human beings.
- Motif: The most important motifs of the novel, The Pearl, are the pearl, the canoe, and Kino as an individual struggling against the social norms of the town.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated by a third-person narrator. It is also called an omniscient narrator who happens to be the author himself as he can see things from all perspectives. Here John Steinbeck Austen herself is the narrator.
- Personification: Personification means to attribute human acts and emotions to non-living objects. For example,
i. The brown algae waved in the gentle currents and the green eel grass swayed and little sea horses clung to its stems. (Chapter-II)
ii. And a town has a whole emotion. (Chapter-II)
iii. And the beauty of the pearl, winking and glimmering in the light of the little candle, cozened his brain with its beauty. (Chapter-III)
Both of these examples show algae, town, and beauty personified.
- Protagonist: Kino is the protagonist of the novel. He appears in the novel from the very start and captures the interest of the readers until the last page when he comes back to throw the pearl in the sea.
- Paradox: The Pearl shows the implicit use of paradox in that both Juana and Kino knows that the pearl is proving a bad fortune for them, yet they want the good fortune to sprout from it.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
i. Why should he, when he had more than he could do to take care of the rich people who lived in the stone and plaster houses of the town? (Chapter-I)
ii. “That is true,” said Kino, “but how can we know? We are here, we are not there. (Chapter-IV) Price in capital
iii. I found it in the path. Can you hear me now? Here is your pearl. Can you understand? You have killed a man. We must go away. They will come for us, can you understand? We must be gone before the daylight comes.” (Chapter-V)
These examples show the use of rhetorical questions posed by different characters such as first by Kino, second by his brother Juan and third by his wife Juana.
- Theme: A theme is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel, The Pearl, not only shows the titular thematic strands of The Pearl, but also life, struggle, racial discrimination, gender parity, and human luck.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is the town of La Paz, Mexico, where Kino and his family relations live, including the coastal area and the way to the capital city.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
i. In the canoe she was like a strong man. (Chapter-1)
ii. A town is a thing like a colonial animal, (Chapter-III)
iii. The news stirred up something infinitely black and evil in the town; the black distillate was like the scorpion, or like hunger in the smell of food, or like loneliness when love is withheld. (Chapter-III)
The first simile compares Juana to a man, the second the town to an animal, and the third compares the news to several different things simultaneously.