In brief: Kino and Juana live a poor but happy life. When Kino finds ‘the Pearl of the World’, their fortunes change, but not for the better.
The good: An enjoyable story that is very visual in its telling.
The not-so-good: Somewhat predictable ending.
Why I chose it: Enjoying making my way through Steinbeck’s works.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
The Pearl by John Steinbeck surprised me. Why? Because even though I haven’t yet read a lot of Steinbeck, his style in this novella was completely different to the last book of his I read. I was impressed and looking forward to see how his style changes with his longer fiction and non-fiction.
The Pearl is a parable retelling of a Mexican folktale. Kino and his wife Juana are poor but happy in their relationship and delighted with baby Coyotito. They live in relative poverty, but have each other and their families. One day when Kino is diving, he finds an oyster that contains a huge pearl. Convinced that this will be the solution to all his problems, Kino is ecstatic. He and Juana can get married, Coyotito can go to school and they will have the money to pay the doctor when they are ill. The whole community is overjoyed, but the pearl doesn’t bring the happiness Kino expected. People attempt to harm them and the pearl buyers try to swindle them. Forced out of their home, the family leaves their town in search for a better price for the pearl and a better life. Juana wants Kino to throw the pearl away, but he refuses until tragedy strikes.
For a slim read, The Pearl packs a lot of punch. It gets right to the heart of the main issues – money and greed. As poor people, Juana and Kino have few rights and are looked down upon by the rich – the doctor, the pearl dealers and the priest. Once they come into money, all these people immediately think about how to swindle them out of their fortune. Looking at this through a modern lens, it’s shocking, as is the violence the couple experience. Kino’s treatment of Juana is also shocking to a modern eye – hitting her when she wants to get rid of the pearl. But she is right, no good comes of the family while they are in possession of the pearl. At the end, they are left with less than what they started with. Is this suggesting that the poor cannot rise in status without being thwarted at every turn? Is Kino wrong for trying to better his status and want more for his child? Is he just as greedy as those who want to cheat him out of his pearl?
Overall, The Pearl raises a lot of questions about class, money and luck as well as the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’. It’s written very visually and is fast paced, but the pace never detracts from the emotions experienced by Kino.