John Steinbeck – The Pearl

Title: The Pearl
Author: John Steinbeck
Year: 1947

The story of The Pearl is derived from a tale that John Steinbeck heard in La Paz, which to him was an almost perfect parable about the consequences of greed and not being content with one’s lot. Steinbeck’s novella is told in the tone of a parable told in a primitive, but is of course relevant in a much broader context. I find the style and the story entertaining, well-written and thought-provoking. In other words, the key ingredients to create a masterpiece.

The text itself tells the story of the poor Indian Keno, who like his father and his grandfather before him, earns a living diving for pearls in the Gulf of Mexico. The pearls are hard to find and only bring a limited income, only just enough to support Kino and his wife Juana and their young child Coyotito. One day, Coyotito is bitten by a scoripon, but since they have no money to pay the greedy doctor, Kino is resorted to a last attempt to find a pearl big enough to pay for the help the doctor allegedly can offer. He finds more than that, though, he finds the mystical pearl that everyboyd is dreaming of finding, a pearl of such unfathomable wealth that it almost becomes without value. Juana wants him to throw the pearl back into the ocean, thinking it brings only evil, and throughout the narrative, she is proved right time and time again.

I like this story for two reasons, apart from the things I mentioned in the first paragraph. First, it inspired me to write fiction of my own. The moment I finished this story, I started writing a similar one, but set in a completely different environment and with a somewhat different goal. The Pearl reminded me that even a very simple story can be great. Second, the atmosphere and the tone set by Steinbeck’s language is absolutely fabulous; not only does it feel genuine, but it does so in a strangely mysterious way. On the whole, this novella isn’t perfect, but it’s still good enough for me to give it four and a half snails and recommend it to everyone!

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