Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl is Steinbeck's sixteenth published work, and the third that I read this year (following The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden). It is based on an oral Mexican-Indian story he heard while traveling in the Gulf of California. It is a short work with a very folktale quality.

The protagonist, Kino, is a pearl diver who finds an immense and unusual pearl, which had been referred to in local legends as The Pearl of the World. He believes that the discovery of this pearl will bring happiness and prosperity to his family, but instead it brings tragedy. Technically, the pearl itself is neutral and has no effect on Kino, but the way other humans react to his discovery brings tragedy. The pearl symbolizes the American Dream, and Steinbeck is making the point that, while pursuit of the American Dream itself is neutral, our world makes it impossible for it to function as intended.

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