A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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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Products & Purchases
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.
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.
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.
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