The Pearl: Depictions of Life


In John Steinbeck\'s The Pearl, a destitute pearl diver finds a giant
pearl 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 his
simple life. Throughout the fable, there is a constant theme woven through the
characters and setting which encompasses the struggle among social classes to
become successful. Steinbeck, a novelist known for his realistic depictions of
life, portrays this motif through Kino, the doctor, Coyotito, and the town of La
Paz.
John Earnst Steinbeck, author of The Pearl and many other stories, was
born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California. Both his father, who ran a
flour mill, and his mother, a teacher, encouraged him to write once they saw his
early interest in literature. Steinbeck began his career by writing articles
for his school newspaper and by taking classes at Stanford University. At the
same time, he worked at a local ranch where he witnessed the harsh treatment of
migrant workers. These underpriveleged laborers later served as the inspiration
for many of his novels, including The Grapes of Wrath. The Pearl, another
inspiration from his past, originated from a legend about the misfortunes of a
poor boy who found a giant pearl that was told to Steinbeck while on a trip to
Mexico.
Kino, the protagonist in The Pearl, is an honest pearl diver that
discovers the sacrifices that come with the struggle for success. He dreams of
the education the pearl could provide for his son, but the pearl also makes Kino
more suspicious of the peaceful villagers around him. At one point, he tries to
sell the pearl in order to pay for a doctor Coyotito needs, but the pearl buyers
only try to cheat him of the success he feels he deserves. Then Kino tries to
leave 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, a
symbol of hard work and ambition, is destroyed by his dreams of a better life.
The town doctor also demonstrates how the struggle for success can
corrupt people. This "healer" is more interested in money than the welfare of
others. While drinking expensive tea out of tiny china cups, he sits in his
large white house and dreams of returning to Paris. When Juana comes to ask if
he 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 the
family\'s grass hut. Once there, he makes Coyotito sick so that he may cure the
infant and squeeze a portion of the pearl\'s wealth from the family. This
disgraceful doctor represents the arrogance of the powerful towards the
powerless.
Coyotito, though only an infant, is also a very important symbol of the
struggle for success. An innocent victim of greed, he knows nothing more
comforting than the simple life he spends in his wooden crib and in his mother\'s
arms. Yet, the pearl and the possibilities it offers threaten and eventually
take his life. Because of his poverty, he is refused treatment for a scorpion
sting, 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 thinks
his eyes are those of trackers coming to take the pearl.
Even the town of La Paz gives evidence of the strife that costs the
life of a child. Located on the coast of Mexico, most of the Indians in this
town are merely fishermen trying to feed their families. These people are
constantly taken advantage of by traders that come. Unfortunately, they can do
nothing, or their families will lose business. For the people, there is a
struggle each day just to make ends meet. However, their grass and mud huts
clash with the stone and plaster city of the rich. It is through the city of
stone and plaster that Juana must boldly journey through to ask the doctor for
help. The huts battle to enter the boundaries of the rich, just as Kino fights
the boundaries of social stratification.
Through the struggles that Kino faces, he reveals the conflicts between
the rich and the poor. Coyotito teaches the reader how innocent bystanders can
suffer, and the doctor shows what type of people could do such a thing. Through
these characters and the town of La Paz, Steinbeck informs his reader that
wealth and happiness do not always come