Other themes in John Steinbeck’s book ‘The Pearl’

John Steinbeck sets his story in 1940, at the Gulf of California — La Paz (page 7-8). At this period, the US had just experienced the Great Depression.

In addition World War II had begun, but the US economy had improved and immigrants were absorbed in war companies.

Women were given a chance to work outside their homes.

Writers started to present the connection between man and his society. The characters created during this period were trying to cope with racism and class war, part of which the characters in The Pearl also face.

In addition to the themes of greed and murder (Saturday Nation, August 19, 2017), other themes emerge. The theme of tradition, traditional religion and Christianity are intertwined in the first chapter. The villagers rely on fishing pearls from the sea as their main economic activity. They believe that the gods or God will bless them one day with a lucky pearl. Kino hopes to have a church wedding when he sells the pearl.

Class differences emerges as the writer compares the village and the town “…where the town brush houses stopped and the city of stone and plaster began, the city of harsh walls.” (page 24). The villagers cannot afford better houses or clothing, but hope one day they will, through the dream of Kino. The harsh walls, symbolically relate to the harsh and individualism of the characters in the town. Village life is open but stone walls hide the vices of the town.

Racism is explored when Kino undertakes the journey to the town to find a cure for his son Coyotito. The author describes Kino’s reaction: “Kino hesitated a moment. The doctor was not of his people…”(page 26). Kino’s anger rises when the doctor rejects the pearls he wants to use to pay him.

The theme of mechanical relations is also highlighted through the doctor’s demand for good pay because he is tired of giving free services. He is inhumane to the plight of the suffering as he hopes to make enough to take him to France, “the great world.” Therefore, when Kino finds the pearl, he even visits the village and makes Coyotito ill so that he can benefit from the pearl.

Disillusionment and hopelessness emerge through Kino’s determination to fulfil his wishes. To Kino, illusions move from healing the child
to dreams of a better lifestyle (page 44-45). The last dream is to acquire the ‘rifle’ as a way of justifying his ability to provide and protect his family.

The theme of revenge occurs through Kino’s desire to pay back the unjust and corrupt society that has oppressed his people for many years. He also aims to eliminate his obstacles. At the village he wrestles and kills those who try to steal ‘his’ pearl. As he kills the trackers, the optimistic song in his mind changes and he heard… ‘the cry of death’ (page 115). He realises that Coyotito, whom he thought could acquire education and make them free, had died. This is his fate and he recognises that he cannot change it. As they return to their village, they carry…‘two towers of darkness,’ that is the “rifle” and the body of Coyotito (page 116). Ironically the two items were seen as the light that could change their lives but instead brought tears.

By janelydia Wanjiru

Janelydia Wanjiru Mwangi is a English and Literature teacher at Mwanwikio Secondary School in Gatanga, Murang’a County


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