The Pearl by John Steinbeck – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Steinbeck’s novella, The Pearl, is a story about a destitute Mexican pearl diver by the name of Kino, who leads a simple existence with his wife Juana and baby son Coyotito. One day Coyotito falls ill, a result of being bitten by a scorpion. The town’s doctor refuses to tend to the child as Kino does not have money to pay his bill.
Later that very morning Kino defies incredible odds when having dived from his canoe he finds a very rare and large pearl, referred to as ‘the pearl of the world’. In an instant Kino’s hopes for the future change dramatically, as he anticipates a better life for his family; including an education for his young son, plans to marry Juana in the local church and his desire to buy a rifle.
The pearl proves to be a perilous commodity however, evoking envy and greed in others. First thieves attempt to steal the pearl and then the town’s pearl traders, operating as a monopoly, give a derogatory valuation. Dragged unwittingly into a world of collusion, corruption and ultimately murder, Kino and his family flee from the town with the pearl, only for tragedy to strike and for Kino and Juana to return to the village having lost their son, robbed of their dreams and cursing the day that they found ‘the pearl of the world’.
The Pearl is a parable about the darker side of human nature – greed, jealousy, social divisions, the unjust nature of the world and how we are all prisoners of circumstance – in which the author employs a simple yet captivating prose to illustrate how riches can be illusory.