The Pearl by John Steinbeck fulfilled the
category “Book with a
Gem, Mineral or Rock in the Title” for the PopSugar 2021 Reading Challenge. A
pearl is usually considered a gemstone, but it’s actually a mineral composite
of aragonite and conchiolin. Either way, it fits.
The novella was written in 1947, but many issues it
brings up are relevant today. The story focuses on an indigenous couple’s battle with racism,
classism, and plain old survival.
In their village of La Paz in Baja California Sur,
Kino and his wife, Juana, are forced from their everyday lives when a scorpion
stings their baby, Coyotito. (A little Hero’s Journey here…) At home, the
two do what they can to save the boy. Finally, strong, brave Juana asks for the
doctor. They go. And the doctor is a narcissistic, money-grubbing, racist and
refuses to see them. Kino decided he must get a good pearl to give to the
doctor to save his boy. In the meantime, Juana’s actions of sucking out the poison and putting a brown
seaweed poultice on the wound have probably already saved the boy’s life.
dives for pearls and has the find of a lifetime, the largest pearl anyone has
ever seen. Then the trouble begins. Steinbeck does his usual magic of showing
us the hearts of men through these seemingly simple stories.
I love a classic, and The Grapes of Wrath was
one of my favorites in high school (yeah, I was that kid. I even liked The Power
and the Glory. Go figure.) The Pearl, even though it was so short,
spoke volumes about the human condition, white privilege, and the clash of
classes. Everyone wants that pearl. But though he never said it, I believed
none of Kino’s fellow
villagers were responsible for the acts of violence that the family suffered.
The doctor was the bad guy, but he was every villain. He epitomized the
privileged white male who thought he could manipulate, humiliate, and force
people to do his will. He was the worst kind of ugly with his escalating violence
towards the family.
Juana and Kino just wanted to save their son. It was
that simple, but in the village, under those conditions, it was that hard too.
The doctor wanted money from a stone. Then when Kino found the pearl, he tried
to trick him. Dollars to donuts, Kino would have given the man a huge amount of
money from the pearl sale (if only the dealers had been honest and made the
sale) to save his boy. The whole situation would have been nothing if these stupid
white men didn’t prey
on this family.
I hated the ending, but then again, I was supposed
to. Once again, Steinbeck showed the real human condition (no spoilers) and
left us wanting, bereft, and with a tiny, tiny bit of hope. (This is why I don’t read classics all the
time. Ugh, the emotional workout.)
One last stupid observation. I listened to the book
on audio. (Are you surprised?) OMG, the reader was so pretentious. He
emphasized every sentence with such gusto. It was annoying and took away from a
great story. Maybe someday, I’ll
grab another copy with a better reader.
I give The
Pearl by John Steinbeck Four Large, Beautiful Oysters.