The Pearl (novel)

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The Pearl
First edition (US)
AuthorJohn Steinbeck
IllustratorJosé Clemente Orozco
Cover artistCover Design: Micheal Ian Kaye, Artist: Ross Mcdonald
CountryUnited States, Mexico
LanguageEnglish, Spanish
Set inLa Paz, Baja California Sur, 1940s
PublisherThe Viking Press (US)
William Heinemann (UK)
Fondo de Cultura Económica (Mexico and rest of Latin America)
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
First edition title page

The Pearl is a novella by American author John Steinbeck, first published in 1947.

It is the story of a pearl diver, Kino, and explores man's nature as well as greed, defiance of societal norms, and evil. Steinbeck's inspiration was a Mexican folk tale from La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, which he had heard in a visit to the formerly pearl-rich region in 1940.[1]

In 1947, it was adapted into a Mexican film named La perla and in 1987 into a cult Kannada movie Ondu Muttina Kathe. The story is one of Steinbeck's most popular books and has been widely used in high school classes.[2] The Pearl is sometimes considered a parable.


The Pearl, which takes place in La Paz, Mexico, begins with a description of the seemingly idyllic family life of Kino, his wife Juana and their infant son, Coyotito. Kino watches as Coyotito sleeps, but sees a scorpion crawl down the rope that holds the hanging hammock where Coyotito lies. Kino attempts to catch the scorpion, but Coyotito bumps the rope and the scorpion falls on him. Although Kino kills the scorpion, it still stings Coyotito. Juana and Kino, accompanied by their neighbors, go to see the local doctor, who refuses to treat Coyotito because Kino cannot pay enough to sustain the greedy needs of the Doctor.

Kino and Juana take Coyotito down near the sea, where Juana uses a seaweed poultice on Coyotito's shoulder, which is now swollen. Kino dives for oysters from his canoe, hoping to find a pearl he can sell to pay the doctor. He finds a very large oyster which yields an immense pearl, which he dubs "The Pearl of the World".

The news that Kino has found an immense pearl travels fast through La Paz. Kino's neighbors begin to feel bitter toward him for his good fortune, but neither Kino nor Juana realize this feeling that they have engendered. Juan Tomas, Kino's brother, asks him what he will do with his money, and he envisions getting married to Juana in a church and dressing Coyotito in a yachting cap and sailor suit. He claims that he will send Coyotito to school and buy a rifle for himself. The local priest visits and tells Kino to remember to give thanks and to pray for guidance. The doctor also visits, and although Coyotito seems to be healing, the doctor insists that Coyotito still faces danger and treats him. Kino tells the doctor that he will pay him once he sells his pearl, and the doctor attempts to discern where the pearl is located (Kino had buried it in the corner of his hut). That night, a thief attempts to break into Kino's hut, but Kino drives him away. Juana warns Kino that the pearl will destroy them, but Kino insists that the pearl is their one chance and that tomorrow they will sell it.

The next day, Kino goes to sell his pearl. Unknown to him, the pearl dealers in La Paz are in cahoots with each other, secretly conspiring to make it appear as though the prices offered are competitive when they are defrauding the natives. They offer Kino a thousand pesos for the pearl when Kino believes that it is worth fifty thousand. Kino refuses to sell to the pearl dealers and decides to go to the capital instead. That night, Kino is attacked by more thieves, and Juana once again reminds him that the pearl is evil. However, Kino vows that he will not be cheated.

Later that night, Juana attempts to take the pearl and throw it into the ocean, but Kino finds her and beats her for doing so. A group of men accost Kino and knock the pearl from his hand. Juana watches from a distance and sees Kino approach her, limping with another man whose throat Kino has slit. Juana finds the pearl, and they decide that they must leave even if the killing was in self-defense. Kino finds that his canoe has been damaged, their house was torn up, and the outside set afire. In the meantime, they stay with Kino's brother Juan Tomas with his wife Apolonia's protest. They hide for the next day before setting out for the capital at night.

Kino and Juana travel at the night and rest at the day. Kino spots several bighorn sheep trackers passing by, so Kino and Juana escape into the mountains and find a cave to hide in. Juana and Coyotito hide in the cave while Kino goes down to 'deal' with the trackers. As Kino approaches, the trackers hear a cry. They assume is merely a coyote pup and shoot in the direction of the cries to silence it. At that moment, Kino attacks, killing all three trackers. However, Kino can hear nothing but the song of death, for he soon realizes that it was Coyotito's cries that the trackers heard, and the shot hit Coyotito. Juana and Kino returned heartbroken to the city of La Paz, Kino carrying a rifle stolen from the of the tracker he killed, while Juana carries the dead Coyotito like a sack from her back. The two approach the gulf, and Kino, who saw the image of Coyotito with his head blown off in the pearl, throws it into the ocean.


Steinbeck began writing the story as a movie script[3] in 1944, and first published it as a short story called "The Pearl of the World" in Woman's Home Companion in December 1945.[4] The original publication is also sometimes listed as "The Pearl of La Paz".[5] He expanded it to novella length and published it under the name The Pearl by Viking Press in 1947.[4] As he was writing the novella version, he was frequently travelling to Mexico where the film version,[6] co-written with Jack Wagner,[4] was being filmed. The film was also released by RKO in 1947 as a co-promotion with the book.[6]

The Pearl was loosely adapted in 2001 for a film directed by Alfredo Zacharias and starring Lukas Haas and Richard Harris which was released directly to video in 2005.[4]


Family-One of the major themes in the novel is family. Throughout the novel, the plot discusses how the family lives before and after the pearl. It is constantly the focus of the plot and many of the decisions are based on what would be best for the family. For example, the first thing that Kino desires to do with the money from the pearl is to give his wife and Coyotito a better life.[7] This money would pay for Coyotito’s education, better clothes, and better protection. Later, Kino also demonstrates devotion to his family by not selling to the pearl dealer. The second buyer was trying to get the pearl for less than it was worth, but Kino, with his family in mind, declined to search for a better deal. He always has his family in mind, whether it leads to warmth and happiness or destruction. It was the reason Kino got the pearl and, eventually, the reason why he threw it back into the ocean.

Good and Evil -One of the biggest themes in this novel is the one between good and evil. This theme is displayed in other themes as well and it is shown from the beginning to the end. In the beginning, Kino lives a life of simplicity and happiness but when he discovers the pearl, he believes that good will come from it. However, a sense of evil accompanies it. After that, Kino and his family were in a constant battle against evil to preserve the good that they enjoyed before.

Paradox -The theme of paradoxes is displayed through Kino’s desires. Once Kino discovers the pearl, he begins to dream about what could come from this fortune as greed fills his head, but as he tries to carry out this plan, the good wealth also brings destruction to his family as he treats Juana bad and is abusive. Though Kino desires good for his family, there is a paradox of an evil reality that he does not want. Kino tries to “avoid life’s inevitable tension” between these two but he finds that he cannot separate the good and the evil. In the end, the finding of the great prize causes him to lose another, his son.[8]

Perseverance -The theme of perseverance is demonstrated by many characters, but mainly Kino. Before he found the pearl, he was a noble and a very determined person who sought fortune for his family.[9] After he finds it, he is hoping to find it in a different way. Because Kino believes that this would save his family, he persists “though many obstacles”[7]that accompany the pearl. He perseveres to keep the pearl but, in the end, it was not worth keeping.


Kino is the protagonist, and begins as a hard-working pearl diver. He has a wife, Juana, and a son, Coyotito. He is content with his life-style as a diver but is not wealthy until he discovers the pearl. After discovering the pearl, Kino gradually changes to become a completely different man. Though his family is still the center of his actions, he is also driven by greed. He quickly becomes obsessed with the material things that the pearl could bring, which is drastically different than before. He is no longer content with his son being uneducated, or his family not being well-dressed. Instead of enjoying his family and their company, as he did in the beginning, he becomes discontent and always seeks more.[10] He is named for the missionary Eusebio Kino.[11]

Juana Kino’s wife, is a secondary character. She is a loving woman who cares for her husband and son. Throughout the experience, she remains loyal to her family but also perceives the evil that the pearl brings. For example, one night, she attempted to throw the pearl back into the ocean to bring back peace and happiness to her family, demonstrating her wisdom and love for them.[9]

Coyotito is Juana and Kino’s infant son. He is their only child, so his parents do everything they can to protect him. Despite his parents’ love and effort, he is subject to much harm, both before and after the pearl is found.

The Doctor is an unnamed character who symbolizes greed and manipulation. Before the pearl is found, he refused to heal Coyotito because the family was poor, though it would have been easy. However, after the family found the pearl, he returns to the family and acts friendlier to them at first. Not only is he particular to who he treats, demonstrating his greed, but he also uses their ignorance to his advantage by lying about how to treat Coyotito. The doctor is in stark contrast from the family and is the beginning of the evil that will come from the pearl.

Juan Tomas, Kino’s brother, is wise and loyal. In the beginning, Juan Tomas warns Kino of the destruction that wealth may bring[9], demonstrating his love for his brother. When destruction does come, however, Juan Tomas does not arrogantly turn away his brother but, instead, welcomes him in to protect him. He is one of the few characters that does not seek money and knows the importance of family

The pearl dealers also demonstrate greed and manipulation. When Kino tries to sell the pearl, the pearl dealers refuse to take the pearl for its actual price. Instead, they say it is worth less so that he could make more money. They heighten the difference between what Kino wants from the pearl and what it actually brings.[12]

Reception and Analysis

These publications praised the novel as a "major artistic triumph" and emphasizes how Steinbeck understands "the universal significance of life." This novel did not have as great of a review later on. Though many still believe that Steinbeck's work was a unique reflection on "the human experience," there are others who disagreed. Now, people like Warren French, criticize the novel for "lacking both insight and worth."[13]

It is not only used to teach students about literature, but it is also used to discuss important lessons about life. Many believe that the book is the easiest of Steinbeck's books to teach because the lessons are simple, yet significant,[12] so, generally, students that are in middle school or early high school study this novel.[14] Teachers intend to teach their students to go deeper than surface level to learn about both the simplicity and complexity of the novel. They emphasize the themes of the book to allow the student to learn more than just literacy. Nevertheless, this novel has played a significant role in history and has even won the Nobel Prize.

Jackson Benson writes that The Pearl was heavily influenced by Steinbeck's interest in the philosophy of Carl Jung.[5] Steinbeck wrote that he created the story of The Pearl to address the themes of "human greed, materialism, and the inherent worth of a thing."[3]

The Fleming & John song "The Pearl" was based on this story.

The American composer Andrew Boysen's Concerto for Trombone and Wind Symphony (2004) was inspired by The Pearl.[15]


  1. ^ The Pearls of La Paz, Kristian Beadle, Pacific Standard Magazine, July 6, 2010[dead link]
  2. ^ Simmonds, Roy S. "Steinbeck's The Pearl: A Preliminary Textual Study. ", Steinbeck Quarterly 22.01-02 (Winter/Spring 1989): 16-34.
  3. ^ a b Hayashi, Tetsumaro (1993). A New Study Guide to Steinbeck's Major Works With Critical Explications. Scarecrow Press. pp. 174–. ISBN 9780810826113. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Railsback, Brian E.; Meyer, Michael J. (2006). A John Steinbeck Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 284–. ISBN 9780313296697. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b Benson, Jackson J. (1990). The Short Novels of John Steinbeck: Critical Essays With a Checklist to Steinbeck Criticism. Duke University Press. pp. 143–. ISBN 9780822309949. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Steinbeck Quarterly 1989, Vol. 22, No. 01-02". Ball State University. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  7. ^ a b Caswell, Roger (September 2005). "A Musical Journey through John Steinbeck's 'The Pearl': there is plenty of emotions and feelings in this book Engagement, and Comprehension". Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 49 (1): 62-67.
  8. ^ Gladstein, Mimi (4 December 2009). "Fish Stories: Santiago and Kino in Text and Film". Wiley Online Library
  9. ^ a b c Steinbeck, John, and JoseÌ Clemente Orozco. The Pearl. Penguin Books, 2017
  10. ^ Meyers, Michael (1 March, 2004). ""Wavering Shadows: A New Jungian Perspective in Steinbeck's the Pearl". Steinbeck Review. 1: 132.
  11. ^ Schultz, Jeffrey D.; Li, Luchen “Critical companion to John Steinbeck” (2009-01-01)
  12. ^ a b Reed, Arthea J.S. "A Teacher's Guide to the Penguin Edition of John Steinbeck 'The Pearl". Penguin: 1-5
  13. ^ Schultz, Jeffery D. (1 January 2009). "Critical companion to John Steinbeck".
  14. ^ Meyers, Michael (2005). "Diamond in the Rough: Steinbeck's Multifaceted Pearl". Steinbeck Review. 2 (2): 42-56.
  15. ^ Boysen, Jr., Andrew (2008). Concerto for Trombone and Wind Symphony (Liner Notes). Nic Orovich, University of New Hampshire Wind Symphony. Belchertown, MA: Harrison Digital Productions. p. 1. OCLC 315826087.

Further reading