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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online Plot Summary
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THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES - BIOGRAPHY (continued)

After marrying Carol Henning in 1930, Steinbeck met Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist, who owned the Western Biological Laboratory on Cannery Row in Monterey, California. Cannery Row was the location of fish canneries, and was also a hangout for "no goods" and "blots on the town" whom Steinbeck would later call Mack and the boys in his novel Cannery Row (1945). Steinbeck admired Ricketts because he was a "fountain of philosophy and science and art," held unconventional beliefs, and enjoyed an openness with the vagabonds of Cannery Row, who nicknamed him "Doc." Since Steinbeck wanted his novels to reflect an accurate portrait of life, he learned as much as he could about science from his new friend. In the process, he pushed on with his writing and developed what he called a spoken rather than a written style (see the Style section). Since he was most at ease writing about familiar people and places, he set his next two novels, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), in California's Salinas Valley, his childhood home.

From this point to the early 1950s, Steinbeck wrote and published consistently. His first major success came in 1933 when the monthly magazine North American Review published "The Red Pony" and three other short stories. After the success of the novel Tortilla Flat in 1935, Steinbeck's financial worries were over, and his fame as a writer was clinched in 1937 when Of Mice and Men appeared. The critics hailed him as one of America's leading writers, placing him among the "proletarian writers" who wrote about social problems of poor workers (proletarians). When you read The Pearl, set against the oppressive conditions under which Mexican Indians lived, you'll see why critics classified Steinbeck this way.

Troubled by what he saw from a distance, Steinbeck joined a group of Oklahomans migrating from drought and the effects of the Great Depression to what they hoped would be a better life in California. The hallowing experience led to The Grapes of Wrath (1939), a powerful novel for which Steinbeck won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940.


After the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck sailed with Ed Ricketts on an expedition to study the marine life in the Gulf of California, hoping to find universal patterns in marine species that would help him understand life in general. During this trip, Steinbeck heard the legend of the fisherboy who had found a pearl. He documented this trip in The Sea of Cortez (1941) and developed the fisherboy legend in The Pearl. When you read The Pearl, watch for details about the plant and animal life of the Gulf. Notice also the scientific metaphors (comparisons) and themes, which Steinbeck may have developed in part through discussions with Ed Ricketts.

Some critics felt that Steinbeck's later works-those following The Pearl-lacked the energy and conviction of his earlier books. Yet he won the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and used his acceptance speech to strike back at critics who had attacked him. He argued that they were elitist, self-serving, and pessimistic. Pessimism was an outlook Steinbeck could not abide. He was an optimist who believed deeply in the perfectibility of man.

Steinbeck did not publish a novel again after winning the Nobel Prize, and died in New York on December 20, 1968. In his writing, he had deeply affected the conscience of Americans by forcing them to look at their most vulnerable and oppressed citizens. He made readers feel troubled, but he also made them remember their dreams and their belief in humanity.

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