Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

The Classics Circuit: The Pearl by John Steinbeck

In 1947 John Steinbeck published a novella titled The Pearl. The story itself was based on a Mexican folk-tale but the telling was pure Steinbeck. The story is set on the coast among a small town with a group of indigenous people who live near the sea. Kino is one of the Indian men. He and his family survive from what they can obtain from the sea, they live in small brush huts and sell pearls to make money to survive. Kino has a wife Juana and an infant son named Coyotito.

As the story begins Coyotito is stung by a scorpion. Desperate Juana insists that the child be taken to the Doctor, an odd request to make for an Indian since the Doctor will probably not treat the child. The Doctor as expected turns the family away without even seeing the baby once he finds they have no money to pay him.  Kino and Juana then head to the ocean to find a pearl with which to pay the doctor. As Kino dives he finds a large, beautiful pearl. A pearl that will be forever be known as “the pearl of the world” by his people for all time to come.

This pearl is the basis for the entire story and while I do not want to give away anything I will say the story itself is not one of happiness. Then again this is a work by Steinbeck and “feel good” stories were not necessarily his forte. The Pearl in the end is a warning…to the poor to stay in their station. To poor people- to be content with what life has given them and to remain within their class structure and most importantly to all- to not tempt fate.

Deeply descriptive and minutely detailed The Pearl is a story that feels as if it has been passed down for hundreds of years. A cautionary tale told by the fire. Steinbeck manages to share the folk-tale while also making it clearly his own. For lovers of Steinbeck it is not to be missed. For the average reader it is a tale of sorrow but beautifully written.

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