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The Pearl



Beautiful folk tale explores good and evil in human nature.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Pearl is based on a Mexican folk tale that the author first heard around 1940. Though it creates a well-formed, fictional world of poor pearl divers living on corncakes and beans in brush huts in Baja, California, it is foremost meant as a parable for human nature, for good or bad. As a teaching tool, The Pearl, makes an excellent introduction to literary analysis, as middle- and high school-aged students can easily understand what the pearl comes to represent for Kino and his family.

Positive messages

In the novel, the pearl itself symbolizes man's nature -- his propensity toward greed, and the struggle between good and evil. The moral of this retold folk tale seems to say that no good can come from man's desire for money or even from a desire to change his lot in life. It's a dubious, and some would say un-American message, but even so, Kino and Juana's love for one another is beautiful and just as valuable as the pearl.

Positive role models

Though the story suggests that Kino is tempting fate by trying to better his family, he is a loving, devoted husband and father, and Juana is a wonderful wife and mother. The relationship between husband and wife is thoroughly unmodern, but their love for each other and for their son, Cayotito, is a beautiful thing.


Thieves attack and try to rob Kino a number of times in The Pearl, and he strikes back violently. The author describes Kino stabbing and killing a robber, and much more violence involving knives and guns occurs later when trackers pursue Kino and his family into the mountains.

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The story centers on Kino's discovery of the precious pearl and his efforts to sell it in hopes of bettering his family. The Pearl is full of thieves, cheats, and violence, all surrounding the money that an entire community imagines to be attached to the pearl.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Pearl is Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck's interpretation of a Mexican folk story in which a poor pearl diver's life is changed by the discovery of a very large gem. This short novel makes an excellent introduction to literary criticism, as the author's use of symbolism is fairly simple for teen readers to analyze and understand. However, the message put forth by the book -- that man invites evil by trying to better his situation -- invites a lot of questions. Also, gender roles in the book are very old-fashioned, as the story offers a portrayal of poor, uneducated Mexican people as simple folk who live unquestioningly, as generations before them have lived.

What's the story?

A pearl diver named Kino and his wife, Juana, live with their only child, Cayotito, in a brush hut near the sea in Baja, California. Cayotito becomes ill, but Kino and Juana do not have the money to pay for a doctor's care. Kino prays that he will find a pearl large enough to exchange for the money to get Cayotito the help he needs. When he finds the \"pearl of the world,\" however, evil forces threaten him and his precious family.

Is it any good?


Steinbeck's retelling of this Mexican folk tale, The Pearl, is beautiful and lyrical. The author uses evocative language to describe Kino's world and his emotional journey. In this novel, every feeling and every important part of Kino and Juana's world has a "song" that the characters "sing" to each other and hear in their hearts -- the song of evil, the song of family, the song of hope. It's a simple story, told with power and poetry by one of America's all-time greatest novelists.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the moral suggested by The Pearl -- that a man lets evil in by trying to change his life. Was Kino wrong to keep the pearl? Is Kino a good man? What, if anything, should he have done differently?

  • What does the pearl represent in the book?

  • Gender roles in The Pearl are very old fashioned, with Juana baking corncakes and tending Cayotito while Kino dives for pearls. How do you feel about the husband/wife relationship here?

  • Why do you think this book is considered a classic, and why do you think it's required reading for so many students?

Book details

Author:John Steinbeck
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Penguin Group
Publication date:February 28, 1993
Number of pages:96

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Adult Written byTimTheTVGuy February 13, 2013

Very enjoyable.

This is one of my favorite books.I love The Pearl.It's an awesome book.I've read better but this book is still a great book.Sure there is some violence,but it is still extremely enjoyable.I love this book so much.Buy it and read it as long as you want.
Teen, 13 years old Written byZangoose March 11, 2013

I don't think it's worth the time.

I felt that this book focused too much on the main character having "songs" come up in his mind whenever something interesting happened and that the book had a lot of things mentioning "the gods" and whatnot. The ending is also disappointing.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 13 years old Written byNomacop January 6, 2013

the pearl

a good story, but not outstanding, dont see why its a classic.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence


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