The Pearl is the fourth consecutive title I’ve read for my *Steinbeck Special*, and it’s a little different to say the least. This novel is a parable rewrite by Steinbeck, based on an old Mexican folktale, so unlike his others works, Steinbeck is somewhat bound by an existing plot and characters(?). As such he has little freedom to evolve things to the same extent that he does in his other novels, and it shows.
The story itself is centred on poor Mexican fisherman Kino, who discovers a pearl – ‘The Pearl of the World’, and it looks as though all of his problems, mainly financial, are going to be over. However the discovery is set to doom Kino and his family, as paranoia and the evil of others conspire against his good fortune, and shatter his good intentions.
The highlight of The Pearl is definitely Steinbeck’s treatment of the paranoia which is growing in Kino. He illustrates this to great effect, showing Kino becoming more and more suspicious of other people’s motives, and he further emphasises the sense of foreboding through the use of a kind of ‘wandering evil’, the ‘song’ of which Kino often seems to be perceptive to.
All in all The Pearl isn’t a bad novella. It’s quite enjoyable, but it’s not to the same depth of many of Steinbeck’s other works. It’s short so I would recommend it to other people to read, if only to take from it the lesson that wealth doesn’t always bring happiness.
Originally I had planned to read this novella as my only introduction to John Steinbeck. I’m glad I expanded into other Steinbeck works as I don’t believe The Pearl, as good as it is, gives a true representation of Steinbeck’s writing prowess.
Favourite quote: But Kino’s face shone with prophecy. “My son will read and open the books, and my son will write and know writing. And my son will make numbers, and these things will make us free because he will know – he will know and through him we will know.”
Favourite scene: The doctor’s visit to Kino’s home to treat Kino’s son Coyotito, who has been stung by a scorpion. Steinbeck’s treatment of Kino’s paranoia in this scene (brought about by Kino’s suspicions that the doctor is ‘inducing’ illness into his child) is exemplary.
What this novel has taught me about writing: Another, albeit smaller and less potent, slice of Steinbeck magic, illustrating the importance of creating good characters.