The Pearl Essay, Research Paper
In John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, a destitute pearl diver finds a giant pearl with which he
hopes to buy peace and happiness for his family. Instead, he learns that the valuable pearl
can not buy happiness but only destroy his simple life. Throughout the fable, there is a
constant theme woven through the characters and setting which encompasses the struggle
among social classes to become successful. Steinbeck, a novelist known for his realistic
depictions of life, portrays this motif through Kino, the doctor, Coyotito, and the town of
John Earnst Steinbeck, author of The Pearl and many other stories, was born on
February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California. Both his father, who ran a flour mill, and his
mother, a teacher, encouraged him to write once they saw his early interest in literature.
Steinbeck began his career by writing articles for his school newspaper and by taking
classes at Stanford University. At the same time, he worked at a local ranch where he
witnessed the harsh treatment of migrant workers. These underprivileged laborers later
served as the inspiration for many of his novels, including The Grapes of Wrath. The
Pearl, another inspiration from his past, originated from a legend about the misfortunes of
a poor boy who found a giant pearl that was told to Steinbeck while on a trip to Mexico.
Kino, the protagonist in The Pearl, is an honest pearl diver that discovers the
sacrifices that come with the struggle for success. He dreams of the education the pearl
could provide for his son, but the pearl also makes Kino more suspicious of the peaceful
villagers around him. At one point, he tries to sell the pearl in order to pay for a doctor
Coyotito needs, but the pearl buyers only try to cheat him of the success he feels he
deserves. Then Kino tries to leave the town, but his fear only causes him to shoot
Coyotito accidentally. Finally, Kino returns to La Paz and throws the pearl into the sea.
Kino, a symbol of hard work and ambition, is destroyed by his dreams of a better life.
The town doctor also demonstrates how the struggle for success can corrupt
people. This “healer” is more interested in money than the welfare of others. While
drinking expensive tea out of tiny china cups, he sits in his large white house and dreams
of returning to Paris. When Juana comes to ask if he will treat Coyotito’s scorpion sting,
he promptly sends her promptly away. However, when news of Kino’s discovery reaches
the doctor, he rushes to the family’s grass hut. Once there, he makes Coyotito sick so that
he may cure the infant and squeeze a portion of the pearl’s wealth from the family. This
disgraceful doctor represents the arrogance of the powerful towards the powerless.
Coyotito, though only an infant, is also a very important symbol of the struggle for
success. An innocent victim of greed, he knows nothing more comforting than the simple
life he spends in his wooden crib and in his mother’s arms. Yet, the pearl and the
possibilities it offers threaten and eventually take his life. Because of his poverty, he is
refused treatment for a scorpion sting, and because of his family?s wealth he is made sick
by a greedy doctor. Finally, the pearl costs little Coyotito his life when Kino accidentally
thinks his eyes are those of tracers coming to take the pearl.
Even the town of La Paz gives evidence of the strife that costs the life of a child.
Located on the coast of Mexico, most of the Indians in this town are merely fishermen
trying to feed their families. These people are constantly taken advantage of by traders that
come. Unfortunately, they can do nothing, or their families will lose business. For the
people, thereis a struggle each day just to make ends meet. However, their grass and mud
huts clash with the stone and plaster city of the rich. It is through the city of stone and
plaster that Juana must boldly journey through to ask the doctor for help. The huts battle
to enter the boundaries of the rich, just as Kino fights the boundaries of social
Through the struggles that Kino faces, he reveals the conflicts between the rich
and the poor. Coyotito teaches the reader how innocent bystanders can suffer, and the
doctor shows what type of people could do such a thing. Through these characters and the
town of La Paz, Steinbeck informs his reader that wealth and happiness do not always
come together, and that being wealthy does not mean everything. Most importantly, he
shows that the struggle to become successful can destroy one’s initial dreams. Kino finally
realizes the worthlessness of the pearl after Coyotito’s death and as Steinbeck writes: “And
in the surface of the pearl he saw Coyotito laying in the cave with his head shot away. And
the pearl was ugly; it was gray, like a malignant growth…And Kino drew back his arm and
flung the pearl with all his might.”