Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

 The Pearl by John Steinbeck (1947)

A Moving Story by a Nobel Prize Winner

It has been a long time since I have read anything by John Steinbeck (1902 to 1968-California, USA).   When I saw the next Classic Circuit would be devoted to Steinbeck I felt I should read a new to me one of his works.   (I am a bit late submitting this post for which I apologize to the Classic Circle Managers and readers.)    Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for his most famous by far work, The Grapes of Wrath.     He received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for the body of his work.    He was a very productive writer mostly focusing on the lives of the poor in the USA during the depression years of 1930 up until 1940 or so.   

The Pearl is set in on the Pacific Coast of Mexico just south of California.   The central characters of the novel are Indians with few cash resources.   The novel lets us see very clearly the racial and economic divides of the society.   The Indian live primarily from what they can harvest from the sea.  

A child is bitten by a scorpion and his parents take him to the local doctor.   When the doctor see his patient and his parents he is basically insulted and disgusted that he has been called on to treat an Indian boy.   He asks if the parents have any money to pay his fee.   When he sees they do not he refuses to treat the boy and shows he is quite racist.   

The father can think only of one way to get the money to help his boy (it is sort of treated in passing but it is a very macho society where pride can get in the way of doing what is best for your family or even yourself) and that is to find a valuable pearl.   The Pearl is about what happens when he does find a very valuable pearl.  It does not bring them the happiness they thought it would, really quite the opposite.   

The Pearl is told almost as if it were a folk tale.  It has a powerful message on how one should seek happiness.   You really have to read it to get the moral behind it and I do not want to spoil the plot of this short novel.

I want to quote briefly from the end of the story so you can get a feel for the prose and the overtly moralistic quality of The Pearl.

"The people say that the two seemed to be
removed from human experience; that they had gone through pain and had
come out on the other side; that there was almost a magical protection about them. And those people who had rushed to see them crowded back"

I enjoyed reading The Pearl.   There are a lot of good reading ideas in the other posts for the Steinbeck edition of the Classics Circle.

Mel u


Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I love it when you have to figure out the theme of a novel, but I hate it when the author spells everything out for you. I think Steinbeck forgot all about subtlety, and The Pearl became a little too moralistic. I still can't wait to read his other work, though. :)

Mel u said...

Darlyn-I agree that Steinbeck is pretty heavy handed in this book in terms of laying out the moral meaning of the story-still it is very well written and not real long-thanks for your visit and comment as always

Shelley said...

I'm glad you chose this one to read. I have bad memories of reading it in high school (and I normally liked our assigned reading, except for this and Billy Budd), and always think maybe I should give it another chance. If nothing else, I love Steinbeck's writing.

Rebecca Reid said...

I'm curious about this one, I think sometimes the folk tale feeling may make the moralistic-ness not feel over the top? I'll probably try this someday, but I'm not rushing out to find it.

nicole said...

Like Darlyn, I had a bit too much of the moralizing from Steinbeck on this one. I wonder if I would feel differently now--as Rebecca says, the folk tale quality should mitigate that heavy-handedness. The quote you pulled certainly brings back some memories.

Mel u said...

Shelly-give it another try-the tone might seem a bit too moralistic but the prose is beautiful

Rebecca Reid-yes I see no need to rush and read this but it is a good one day after you have read the major works book

Nicole-the moralizing is a bit heavy handed-Steinbeck is a good writer

Kelli Nørgaard said...

Thanks for the link to the circuit!