Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thoughts: The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Gah, I was completely bowled over by Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men—which I loved, loved, loved—so, I guess, I was just waiting be impressed again. That didn’t happen. The Pearl didn’t bowl me over. In fact, it was more like a slight irritation.

The Pearl is about Kino, his wife Juana, and their baby Coyotito. Kino works as a pearl diver, and one day finds The Pearl of the World. He dreams that the pearl will buy him and his family peace and happiness. He soon learns, however, that peace and happiness are two things that can’t be bought.

Steinbeck is as subtle as a kick head in the head in this book. Everything started going downhill for Kino the second he laid eyes on the Pearl of the World. Everyone wanted a piece of that pearl—the other villagers, the greedy doctor, the pearl-buyers, and even the parish priest. Steinbeck keeps telling the reader over and over that it’s WRONG—almost evil—to aspire to be something more than you are. In fact, he spells it out for the reader in this excerpt:
“And the Father made it clear that each man and woman is like a soldier sent by God to guard some part of the castle of the Universe. And some are in the ramparts and some are in the darkness of the walls. But each one must remain faithful to his post and must not go running about, else the castle is in danger from the assaults of Hell.”
What is so wrong with wanting to move up to the ramparts? If you’re poor and you want a better education for your children, that’s not wrong. If you strive hard to get a better life for yourself and your family, that’s not morally questionable. That’s being a decent human being.

But I did like how Steinbeck depicted Kino and Juana’s lives before he found the Pearl of the World. The first chapter, in particular, is quite beautiful. There are so many little details that you almost feel like you’re sitting next to Kino on a dirt floor, eating corn cakes.

Overall, I still love Steinbeck, but I didn’t like the message of this book and how often he repeated it. Too preachy for my taste. I’m still looking forward to his other work, though.

Rating: 3/5

13 comments:

mooderino said...

I haven't read this book, but from the excerpt couldn't the opinion be the priest's and not Steinbeck's, and a commentary on how the powers that be try to keep you in your place, in this case using religion as their justification?

fatbooks.org said...

I think Steinbeck is generally a heavy-handed writer, but like you say - it goes too far in this book. I can deal with a little preachiness in East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath, but The Pearl...well, I was relieved it was as short as it is, but it's a shame to read such a poor work by the writer of two pretty stunning & epic novels.

-- ellen

Red said...

I haven't read this book since grade school but I remember disliking it then exactly for the reason you stated above: why is it so wrong to aspire to be something more? I could never get past it.

Jenna said...

The only Steinbeck I've read is Of Mice and Men, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm surprised that The Pearl has such a negative message. I don't know for sure, but maybe Steinbeck was using this work as his experiment with the parable/fable narrative, and he just couldn't pull it off?

Amanda said...

I'm completely with you on this one. While I adore Steinbeck, some of his shorter works (like this one and The Red Pony) were completely underwhelming.

Trish said...

I read this years ago and remember feeling -meh-

You picked the perfect excerpt to sum it up!

Zibilee said...

This book sounds like it's more of a fable, which sounds different than most of his other work. I have only read East of Eden, but I did really love it and hope to read more Steinbeck soon. I might hold off on this one till last though~!

Avid Reader said...

This was my very first Steinbeck and because of that I thought I didn't like him for a long time. Once I read most of his other work (Travels With Charley, Cannery Row, Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, etc) I grew to love him. So definitely keep trying other books of his, they're closer to Of Mice than The Pearl.

mel u said...

it has been decades since I read any Steinbeck-might try one soon-nice review

Allie said...

I haven't read this one, but I picked it up a few weeks ago. You've made me curious. I kind of want to read it after reading this. :) Funny, huh?

Perhaps he was experimenting and just failed. who knows? But you made the beginning sound interesting, so maybe.... ;)

Trisha said...

I actually started this one and only made it a few pages in before giving up. I'm not sure if I'll pick it up again.

Lesa said...

Oh, the Pearl-- This was required reading in 8th grade-- how the nonbookish kids groaned! I was a bookworm but I found it boring at the time.

Biblibio said...

I hated, hated, hated The Pearl when I was forced to read it in school (also eighth grade). The following year, I was forced to read Of Mice and Men. I was certain I'd hate it, but instead I was completely and utterly amazed by Steinbeck's writing and his story-telling. Since then, I've read The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden both of which I also consider to be excellent (with East of Eden on top). I tried to reread The Pearl, thinking perhaps the problem was that I was too young when I read it.

Nope. Still terrible.

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