The Pearl: Depictions of LifeIn John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, a destitute pearl diver finds a giantpearl with which he hopes to buy peace and happiness for his family. Instead,he learns that the valuable pearl can not buy happiness but only destroy hissimple life. Throughout the fable, there is a constant theme woven through thecharacters and setting which encompasses the struggle among social classes tobecome successful. Steinbeck, a novelist known for his realistic depictions oflife, portrays this motif through Kino, the doctor, Coyotito, and the town of LaPaz.John Earnst Steinbeck, author of The Pearl and many other stories, wasborn on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California. Both his father, who ran aflour mill, and his mother, a teacher, encouraged him to write once they saw hisearly interest in literature.
Steinbeck began his career by writing articlesfor his school newspaper and by taking classes at Stanford University. At thesame time, he worked at a local ranch where he witnessed the harsh treatment ofmigrant workers. These underpriveleged laborers later served as the inspirationfor many of his novels, including The Grapes of Wrath. The Pearl, anotherinspiration from his past, originated from a legend about the misfortunes of apoor boy who found a giant pearl that was told to Steinbeck while on a trip toMexico.
Kino, the protagonist in The Pearl, is an honest pearl diver thatdiscovers the sacrifices that come with the struggle for success. He dreams ofthe education the pearl could provide for his son, but the pearl also makes Kinomore suspicious of the peaceful villagers around him. At one point, he tries tosell the pearl in order to pay for a doctor Coyotito needs, but the pearl buyersonly try to cheat him of the success he feels he deserves. Then Kino tries toleave the town, but his fear only causes him to shoot Coyotito accidentally.Finally, Kino returns to La Paz and throws the pearl into the sea. Kino, asymbol of hard work and ambition, is destroyed by his dreams of a better life.
The town doctor also demonstrates how the struggle for success cancorrupt people. This “healer” is more interested in money than the welfare ofothers. While drinking expensive tea out of tiny china cups, he sits in hislarge white house and dreams of returning to Paris.
When Juana comes to ask ifhe will treat Coyotito’s scorpion sting, he promptly sends her promptly away.However, when news of Kino’s discovery reaches the doctor, he rushes to thefamily’s grass hut. Once there, he makes Coyotito sick so that he may cure theinfant and squeeze a portion of the pearl’s wealth from the family. Thisdisgraceful doctor represents the arrogance of the powerful towards thepowerless.Coyotito, though only an infant, is also a very important symbol of thestruggle for success. An innocent victim of greed, he knows nothing morecomforting than the simple life he spends in his wooden crib and in his mother’sarms. Yet, the pearl and the possibilities it offers threaten and eventuallytake his life.
Because of his poverty, he is refused treatment for a scorpionsting, and beacuse of his fimily’s wealth he is made sick by a greedy doctor.Finally, the pearl costs little Coyotito his life when Kino accidentally thinkshis eyes are those of trackers coming to take the pearl.Even the town of La Paz gives evidence of the strife that costs thelife of a child. Located on the coast of Mexico, most of the Indians in thistown are merely fishermen trying to feed their families. These people areconstantly taken advantage of by traders that come. Unfortunately, they can donothing, or their families will lose business.
For the people, there is astruggle each day just to make ends meet. However, their grass and mud hutsclash with the stone and plaster city of the rich. It is through the city ofstone and plaster that Juana must boldly journey through to ask the doctor forhelp. The huts battle to enter the boundaries of the rich, just as Kino fightsthe boundaries of social stratification.Through the struggles that Kino faces, he reveals the conflicts betweenthe rich and the poor. Coyotito teaches the reader how innocent bystanders cansuffer, and the doctor shows what type of people could do such a thing.
Throughthese characters and the town of La Paz, Steinbeck informs his reader thatwealth and happiness do not always come together, and that being wealthy doesnot mean everything. Most importantly, he shows that the struggle to becomesuccessful can destroy one’s initial dreams. Kino finally realizes theworthlessness of the pearl after Coyotito’s death and as Steinbeck writes:”And in the surface of the pearl he saw Coyotito laying in the cave with hishead shot away. And the pearl was ugly; it was gray, like a malignantgrowth…And Kino drew back his arm and flung the pearl with all his might.”