HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Pearl
Author: John Steinbeck
Illustrator: Jose Clemente Orozco
Publisher: Penguin Books, republished in 2002
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Steinbeck, John. The Pearl (published in 1947 by The Viking Press; republished in 1992 by The Penguin Group USA Inc., 345 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). Kino, a young and strong but poor pearl diver, and Juana live with their baby son Coyotito in a small fishing village outside the city of La Paz, Mexico (which according to Wikipedia is in Baja California Sur on the Gulf of California). Coyotito is stung by a scorpion, but as Kino has no money to pay the doctor, the boy is refused treatment. He recovers, thanks to Juana’s ministrations, but the next day Kino finds a huge pearl, which he calls “the pearl of the world.” By selling it, he can get the money to pay the doctor, but he also dreams of buying a rifle, marrying Juana, and getting Coyotito an education, things that he has never had money for thus far. However, his dreams blind him to the greed that the pearl arouses in him and his neighbors.
Soon, the whole town knows of the pearl, and many people begin to desire it. That night Kino is attacked in his own home. The next day, he takes the pearl to the pearl buyers in the town, but they refuse to give him the money he wants so he decides to go to the capital for better price. Juana, seeing that the pearl is causing darkness and greed, sneaks out of the house later that night to throw the pearl back into the ocean, but Kino catches her. While he is returning to the house, Kino is attacked again by several unknown men and the pearl is lost in the struggle. Juana finds it and gives it back to Kino. When they arrive home they find that their canoe is damaged and their home is burning down, so they determine to walk to the capital but soon find that they are being tracked by men who are hired to hunt them. Will the family be able to escape? And what will happen to the pearl?
This novella, which was first published as a short story “The Pearl of the World” in Woman’s Home Companion in 1945, explores man’s nature as well as greed and evil and supposedly illustrates our fall from innocence. It is said to be a retelling of an old Mexican folk tale. That the doctor has performed clumsy abortions and had a mistress is mentioned. There are references to drinking wine and smoking cigarettes as well as to both “God” and “the gods.” Kino and Juana are not married but, of course, are living together and have a son. The story exhibits Steinbeck’s typical pessimistic cynicism leading to the conclusion that if something good ever happens, you had better watch out because it is just setting you up for something really bad. Someone has suggested that it bares “the fallacy of the American dream–that wealth erases all problems.” I don’t agree that the American dream is that wealth erases all problems, although some might think that, but I do agree that we must learn that wealth is not the ultimate answer to man’s greatest needs and presents some serious problems. All in all, it is not too bad of a book.