'The Pearl' Review

The Pearl - John Steinbeck
The Pearl - John Steinbeck. Penguin

The Pearl (1947) is somewhat of a departure from some of ​John Steinbeck's earlier works. The novel has been compared to Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (1952). The seeds of Steinbeck's The Pearl began to germinate in 1940 when he was traveling in the Sea of Cortez and heard a story about a young man who found a large pearl.

From that basic outline, Steinbeck reinvented the tale of Kino and his young family to include his own experiences, including in his novel the recent birth of a son, and how that exhilaration affects a young man. The novel is also, in some ways, a representation of his long appreciation of Mexican culture. He made the story into a parable, warning his readers of the corrupting influences of wealth.​

Be Careful What You Wish For...

In The Pearl, Kino's neighbors all knew what good fortune could do to him, his wife, and his new baby boy. "That good wife Juana," they said, "and the beautiful baby Coyotito, and the others to come. What a pity it would be if the pearl should destroy them all."

Even Juana tries to throw the pearl into the sea to free them from its poison. And she knew that Kino was "half insane and half god... that the mountain would stand while the man broke himself; that the sea would surge while the man drowned in it." But, she needed him yet, and she would follow him, even as he admits to his brother: "This pearl has become my soul... If I give it up I shall lose my soul."

The pearl sings to Kino, telling him of a future where his son will read and he may become something more than a poor fisherman. In the end, the pearl doesn't fulfill any of its promises. It only brings death and emptiness. As the family returned to their old house, the people around them said that they seemed "removed from human experience," that they had "gone through pain and had come out the other side; that there was almost a magical protection about them."