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The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2283 words Published: 18th Jul 2017

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This is a small village where Kino and his family as well as relatives live in. The people living in this village have similar houses as Kino's house. The reader can tell that the people living in this village are also very poor and therefore are probably uneducated. Furthermore, this village serves as a contrast to the town that the rich people live in. Since the people are poor and uneducated, the rich people will be able to take advantage of them easily. The setting contributes to the theme of the social class since it demonstrated the inequality between the rich and the poor. Since Kino is very poor, so when he discovers the pearl, people should feel happy for him, right? It is not this case in this novel. People want to steal the pearl even though they are already very rich. Thus, this setting clearly helps to demonstrate the tendency of human beings to be greedy and cruel even to those who have already suffered for a long period of time.

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Gray stone mountain: A mountain north of La Paz where Kino and his family run to in order to escape from the trackers. The mountain is very high, and there is a spring and a shallow cave on the top where Kino's family hide in. Since all animals seek to go to the high place when they are hunted or pursued, the mountain gives the readers a sense of what it is like when hunting and being hunted. The setting itself also creates a suspenseful and tense mood when the novel is at its climax.

6. Plot outline (brief): Kino, Juana, and their baby Coyotito live in a humble brush house by the sea in the village of La Paz. On one morning, a scorpion stings Coyotito. Kino and Juana then rush him to the doctor in the town nearby. When they arrive at the front of the doctor's house, they are rejected by the doctor's servant because they cannot afford the medication fee. Kino then decides to dive into the ocean and look for pearls so he can pay the doctor money. Later, Kino finds the largest pearl that has ever existed on Earth. After hearing about Kino's discovery, the doctor comes to Kino's house and cures Coyotito toward the evening. Before going to bed, Kino hides the pearl under his sleeping mat. Later in the night, he is awakened by an intruder looking for the pearl inside his house. A violent struggle follows, and Kino is injured during the fight. The next morning, Kino and Juana goes to town to sell the pearl. After realizing that the pearl dealers are trying to cheat on him, Kino decides to sell the pearl in the capital instead. In the middle of that night, a group of men attacks Kino again in an attempt to steal the pearl. During the fight, Kino accidently kills one of the men. Kino and Juana then decide to flee. After they find out that Kino's canoe is destroyed and their house is burnt, Kino's family hides in Juan Tomas's house until night comes. At night, Kino, Juana, and Coyotito leave for the capital. They rest after a long journey and are about to continue again when Kino finds out that three trackers are following them. Kino decides that they must go up the gray stone mountain and attempts to mislead the trackers by creating false trails. After they find a cave at the top of the mountain, Kino's family decide to hide inside of it and wait for a chance to escape. Slowly, the trackers make their way to the top of the mountain. The trackers are preparing to sleep when Kino decides that he must attack them before the moon rises so he will not be seen. As Kino prepares to attack, Coyotito lets out a gentle scream, waking the trackers. Then, one of trackers fires his rifle at the cave Juana and Coyotito are in. The moment he fired, however, Kino attacks and quickly kills all of the trackers. Later, Kino finds out Coyotito has been shot. The next day, Kino and Juana travel back to their town. They walk to the ocean as the townspeople watch in silent enthrallment. At the shore, Kino takes out the great pearl and tosses it back into the ocean with all his might.

7. Major themes of the work:

Wealth brings trouble and causes the loss of innocence

  • Kino transforms from a happy, contented man to a greedy savage criminal after he finds the pearl
  • Wealth causes ambition and greed, which destroy mankind's innocence
  • Greed transforms the pearl from a symbol of good luck and hope to a symbol of destruction
  • Kino's greediness leads him to act violently toward Juana and eventually to his son's death
  • People become jealous and want to obtain Kino's newfound pearl in both legal and illegal ways
  • The greed and jealousy of all the people destroy the peace and happiness that Kino has known

Steinbeck points out that human beings have a tendency to be jealous of other people. Most people are envious of the wealth of others, and many will try to take a portion of that wealth by using any method. Therefore, it is very important for us to not to be too greedy and ambitious.

The roles of fate (destiny) and luck

  • Forces beyond human control (like fate and destiny) can completely change an individual's life either for the better or the worse at any moment
  • Kino and Juana's lives are changed when the scorpion (symbol of wicked fate) bites Coyotito
  • Their lives then change again when Kino discovers the pearl (symbol of beneficial fate)

Even though Steinbeck points out that fate and other forces do play a role in shaping human life, he also suggests that it is not fate, but human emotions and desires in the forms of jealousy and greed that ultimately leads to the novel's devastating tragic ending.

Cruelty of Humanity and the Social Classes

  • The doctor cruelly refuses to treat Coyotito since Kino does not have money
  • The pearl buyers try to cheat on the ignorant Kino so that they can make more money
  • The trackers and other unknown invaders are willing to kill Kino in order to become wealthy
  • The poverty and lack of education prevents the lower-class from enjoying the benefits of the higher-class
  • The upper-class members take advantage of the lower-class because they are more educated

In showing how the pearl affects other people, Steinbeck points out that most people have a cruel nature. We might do harm to others in order to achieve our own personal goals. Furthermore, Steinbeck also points out that there is an inequality between the higher-class and the lower-class, since the better educated higher-class will always take advantage of the uneducated lower-class.

8. Symbols in the book:

  • The Pearl

The pearl constantly appears throughout the novel. When the pearl is first discovered in Chapter 2, it represents possibility, good luck, and a symbol of divine assistance. Kino's discovery of the pearl fills him with hope for a better-quality life. It seems to be an event that serves as a relief to the disaster of the scorpion bite.

Once the town learns about the pearl (Chapters 3-6), however, the pearl begins to make everyone to become greedy. The pearl becomes less symbolic of all the good things that it represents and now symbolizes greed, ambition, desires, and cruelty. Juana and Juan Tomas also begin to see the pearl as a dangerous threat. Kino begins to dedicate all his efforts and possessions to protecting the pearl toward the end of the novel. The pearl therefore comes to symbolize the destructive nature of greediness.

  • The scorpion

The scorpion that stings Coyotito in Chapter 1 represents evil and the annihilation of innocence and purity. Even though the scorpion only appears once in the novel, the process of the destruction of innocence that it represents occurs constantly throughout the plot. For instance, Kino's innocence is destroyed by his ambition and greed, and the colonists destroyed native people's beliefs and traditional ways of life.

  • Kino's canoe

Kino's canoe represents his pride, a means of making a living, and his connection to his cultural tradition. The canoe appears twice throughout the story. The first time is when Kino uses it to find the pearl. Kino's race's culture is deeply spiritual, so it is important that Kino uses his canoe to discover the pearl, which is granted by a heavenly power that has nothing to do with human behaviors or actions. The second time it appears is when Kino attempts to escape by using the canoe. However, he finds it already destroyed. This is very important because Kino's ownership of the pearl leads directly to the destruction of his canoe, and this is an event that symbolizes how Kino's greediness and ambition have destroyed his traditional way of life.

9. Other significant imagery:

"The stars still shone and the day had drawn only a pale wash of light in the lower time, and the early pigs were already beginning their ceaseless turning of twigs and bits of wood to see whether anything to eat had been overlooked. Outside the brush house in the tuna clump, a covey of little birds chattered and flurried with their wings." ~ Chapter 1, page 5

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Steinbeck portrays the natural world as a kingdom that reflects the human world. This imagery mirrors the nature's peaceful innocence - the same innocence that Kino has at the beginning of the novel. However, hiding inside that innocence is the tendency to be greedy. The pigs in this quote are greedy in a sense that they are trying to find anything that they can possibly find to eat.

"The gray oysters with ruffles like skirts on the shells, the barnacle-crusted oysters with little bits of weed clinging to the skirts and small crabs climbing over them. An accident could happen to these oysters, a grain of sand could lie in the folds of muscle and irritate the flesh until in self-protection the flesh coated the grain with a layer of smooth cement. But once started, the flesh continued to coat the foreign body until it fell free in some tidal flurry or until the oyster was destroyed. Swarms of fish lived near the bed to live near the oysters thrown back by the searching men and to nibble at the shining inner shells." ~ Chapter 6, page 85

The descriptions of the sea emphasize the fact that life is a struggle for existence in which only the strongest will be able to survive. The fish can only eat what the men left behind. So if the food is not enough for them, they will die. This struggle can be seen in the conflicts between natives of Kino's race against the oppressive colonists. Also, this quote suggests that oysters must die in order for a pearl to form. Again, Steinbeck points out that every time something is gained, another thing is lost. Kino, with his newfound pearl, has lost his innocence.

"Beside this tiny stream, wherever enough earth collected for root-hold, colonies of plants grew, wild grape and little palms, maidenhair fern, hibiscus, and tall pampas grass with feathery rods raised above the spike leaves. And in the pool lived frogs and waterskaters, and waterworms crawled on the bottom of the pool. Everything that loved water came to these few shallow places. The cats took their prey there, and strewed feathers and lapped water through their bloody teeth. The little pools were places of life because of the water, and places of killing because of the water, too." ~ Chapter 6, page 85

This imagery suggests that there are two sides to almost everything. The pool is a place of birth for plants and other animals. However, it is also a place of death since predators look for prey here. Steinbeck also applies this principle to the pearl as well. Kino is able to afford the doctor and have his son cured because of the pearl. However, his son ultimately died because of the pearl, too.

10. Significance of title of work: The title of the novel is very symbolic and represents the themes of the story. The way the pearl is described throughout the novel reflects the changes that Kino, the main protagonist, goes through. At first, the pearl is a simple and gorgeous object of nature. Once it becomes intertwined with ideas of material value, greed, and desire, however, it becomes dangerous and destructive. The pearl is an item of natural splendor and goodness that draws out the wickedness innate in men.

11. Author's techniques that are important to this work: One of the special techniques that Steinbeck used in this novel is the way he makes all the characters to seem very realistic. In order to develop the characters that he was creating, John Steinbeck studied the culture, traditions, and the thinking of ancient races like those depicted in the novel. As a result, the novel and its characters are very realistic and believable to the readers.

For example:

"'Beware of that kind of tree there,' he said, pointing. 'Do not touch it, for if you do and then touch your eyes, it will blind you. And beware of the tree that bleeds. See, that one over there. For if you break it the red blood will flow from it, and it is evil luck.'" ~ Chapter 6, page 76

In this quote, we can clearly learn what Kino's culture's traditions are and what the people of his race think and believe in. One thing we can tell just by looking from this example is that Kino's race thinks that if a tree "bleeds," then it is bad luck. This shows us that they are superstitious and might believe in some kind of religion.


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