As I read John Steinbeck’s The Pearl*, I tried to imagine what the pearl in question looked like physically. I envisioned an enormous white ball sitting luminously in a room with everyone around it like...
Instead, it was probably a reasonably sized pearl rendered overly impressive in the small town of La Paz. The novella tells of a small family living in a tribal community. The father, a pearl diver, hauls in the Pearl of the World one day and their life changes forever (Steinbeck, 29). He is not educated; he relies solely on his instincts and the tradition of his people. Thus, he is not prepared for this unprecedented find, and many people attempt to manipulate his newfound fortune. When he initially discovers the pearl, he dreams of a better future for his wife and his son. By the end of the book, his wishes are perversely fulfilled.
Steinbeck is an American guy with American concerns. This novel, published in 1947, and East of Eden, published in 1952, address the divide between good and evil and focus on the greed that fuels evil-doers. My biggest takeaway from East of Eden was Steinbeck’s uncanny ability to describe people and get to the root of who they truly are. Every mannerism, every piece of clothing, and every speech inflection reveal a person’s innermost characteristics. Here, even though Steinbeck discusses the same themes, he adopts a different writing style. His words take on a more dreamy and lyrical tone. He’s less descriptive and more straightforward, as if the book is more like a parable intended to be told in soothing tones to successive generations. In both novels, he proves his knack for interweaving complex ideas into simpler storylines. But don’t take him lightly--his words might be easy to read but they’re packed with profundity.
Similar to East of Eden, The Pearl highlights the stereotypical complementary attributes of men and women. Women offer their infinite wisdom (duh) and men maintain their stubborn ways. The couple in the story joins forces in order to retain their dignity in the face of evil. I giggled a little when Kino, the man, puts his wife’s advice immediately to rest. “‘Hush,’ he said fiercely. ‘I am a man. Hush.’” (Steinbeck, 74) Of course, he says this right before shit goes down that would have been avoided had he listened to his woman.
Steinbeck has mad skills when it comes to telling a good story. This novel is succinct, entertaining, and eerily rhythmical in a way that I did not know he was capable of. He continues to live up to my expectations of an author who knows what he’s talking about and is able to talk about it creatively. As such, I give The Pearl four out of five camel humps. It is a foreboding and humbling reminder that sometimes the greatest treasures can lead to the most desolate wastes.
*Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. New York: Bantam Books, 1947. Print.