Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl by John Seinbeck is a a story about the way that fate shapes our lives, and how human greed can turn good motives into corrupted, materialistic desires that eventually lead to destruction. The story takes place in colonial Mexico, where the well-to-do Spanish colonists oppress and manipulate the native people, whom they view as ignorant and inferior to themselves. The story centers around Kino, one of these natives, who makes a meager living doing what his people have done for centuries, pearl diving. He and his wife Juana, and thier baby Coyotito life in a small brush house in a native village outside the colony of La Paz.
At the beginning of the story Kino is in love with his family, his people, and nature, and he cares deeply for all of these things. Suddenly disaster strikes his world when his infant son Coyotito is stung by a scorpion. Kino and Juana hurry to the local doctor, who refuses to help them because he knows they have no money to pay for treatment. But fate again intervenes in Kino's life, this time for the better when he finds "the Pearl of the World" (Steinbeck 21). Its is a huge, beautiful pearl and all the people of his village gather to see it. Hearing that he has found it, the doctor comes to his house and treats Coyotito for the scorpion sting. There is rejoicing and Kino announces what he will do with the money that he gets from selling it. He and Juana will be married in a church, his family will all have new clothes, he will have a rifle, and, most importantly, Coyotito will go to school.
But the pearl soon brings fear and unease. That nigt someone comes and tries to steal the pearl. Kino fights them off but does not know who it was. The next day Kino goes to town to sell the pearl. But the merchants take advantage of his ignorance and try to get him to sell it for very little money. Outraged, Kino says he will not sell his pearl to them, instead he will go to the capital to sell it there. But Juana is afraid that the pearl brings ill fortune and coruptiion. That night she takes the pearl and tries throw it out back into the sea, but Kino catches her and beats her in rage. At the same time three men come and try to steal the pearl. Kino fights them off, killing one. Afraid that he will be punished for murder, Kino, Juana, and Coyotito flee, with men tracking them right on their heels. They run to the desert, and after hiding in various places trying to elude the trackers, they find a water source, and hide the night in a cave nearby. The trackers soon catch up to them and make camp near the cave. Kino knows that they will be discovered in the morning, and he makes one last desperate attampt to get away and save the pearl, but this ultimately leads to the destruction of what he loves most.

Discussion Questions:
1. The pearl itself can be viewed in different ways. Is it a dark omen of evil or a beautiful stroke of luck corrupted by man's greed?

2.The story is full of chance events that symbolize the role that fate plays in our lives. Do you think that our lives are shaped purely by forces we can not control, or do we have a hand in controling our own lives by the way we respond to these chance events?


Anna W. 1-2 said...

1. Based on the written explanation of the pearl, we can conclude that it had great sentimental value for good and bad. I think it’s the way on how you use such powerful objects or materials. There is nothing wrong with having nice items, but it is the matter of how you treat it and if you allow the object or possession to take over your life. Kino obviously thought of how much money it was worth, but was it worth having numerous people break into his home and having to fight them to protect it? I certainly don’t think so. I don’t think the pearl was worth having to flee away from your home just because you want to keep it for all the treasures. It was certainly not worth possibly going to jail for unintentionally murder because you had a valuable item. We can see that desire for such an item only brought violence and fearfulness into Kino’s life from such an exclusive item. Nothing is more valuable then your family and your well being, not even a pearl that brings you endless treasures. True happiness comes from the heart, and not in material ways.

2.I believe we all have a hand in controlling our own lives. It is how we deal with things that shape what will happen next. Free will is ability to choose on your own what you will do with your life and how. It's true that we can’t control the catastrophes of the world such as natural disasters or death, but life is all about how we individually deal with these events. We can live as happily as we want to or as depressing as we want to. Life is all about choices. The choices we make can certainly affect us for a long time, so it is important to look at your life and adjust it accordingly to where you see fit. We may never know if we will live till the next day, so we should all live in the moment.

Lisa T. 1-2 said...

Kino had good intentions when he first found the pearl, so it was greed that caused him to hurt other people and be forced to run away. While not everybody does, I believe he did have control over his life, and with this power he chose to make the pearl his main priority. Chance events led to his downfall, but his bad judgment made him vulnerable to these events.

Miranda R. 7-8 said...

I view the pearl as a beautiful object found by a stroke of luck that has been corrupted by the greed of mankind. Something so beautiful made in nature is exploited for money which in turn leads to many conflicts. The pearl should have been admired instead of used as an object of power. The greed of men lead to uneccessary death and loss. I think that while some events are an occurence of fate, the way a person reacts to an instance of fate can greatly shape thier lives.

Abby M. 1-2 said...

Anna-You make a very good point about the fact that in the end, happiness has nothing to do with material goods. In fact, Steinbeck uses subtle remarks and details throughout the book to show that Kino was actually happier with his life before he found the pearl than he was at the end.

Abby M. 1-2 said...

Miranda- I agree with you that the pearl should not have been exploited, as you said. It was a beautiful gift from nature that mankind corrupted. But do you think that Kino was right to try to sell the pearl to better his family's life?

Miranda R. 7-8 said...

I do believe that it was right of him to try to benefit his family by selling the pearl, however, what was not right was how he started to forget what he was trying to sell the pearl for. He began to put the pearl above anything else and even beat his wife when she tried to get rid of it which shows a shift in his priorities.