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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online Plot Summary
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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS

THE SOURCE OF THE PEARL

Steinbeck nurtured the fable he heard in Mexico four years before he consciously began to develop it. The moral-that the finder of the pearl would be "free" only when he was rid of it-probably was the original inspiration because it accorded with Steinbeck's earlier beliefs that money and possessions are an intolerable burden, though he himself saw no conflict in carrying that burden. As he imagined the characters involved, they grew and changed shape; they became part of Steinbeck's story as distinct from the legend. In changing, of course, they also shaped the story into something unlike the tale as Steinbeck first heard it.

Richard O'Connor, John Steinbeck, 1970

STEINBECK'S STYLE

However meaningful the parable of the pearl may be in the abstract, Steinbeck's success in fleshing out this parable to the dimensions of a credible, forceful human adventure ultimately rests on his prose style, which is flexible to the extent that here as in most of his other novels it becomes technique as well as medium. It is capable not only of creating an aura of symbolic suggestion, but also of rendering details in terms of a camera.

Peter Lisca, The Wide World of John Steinbeck, 1958

THE PEARL AS SENTIMENTAL

Steinbeck is trying in The Pearl to create a drama of the growth of conscious responsibility, but Kino's act of throwing away the pearl doesn't settle things for him as it did for the legendary fisherboy. The source offered a perfect tale of a man who consciously weighed the odds and chose hard work and poverty over being pestered all the time-a story that would have made a wonderfully tough-minded companion piece to Cannery Row.

Steinbeck, however, decided to give the legend some sentimental twists without realizing all the revisions that his first changes would necessitate. Perhaps such a basically fantastic, sentimental story does not warrant such strong condemnation; but The Pearl has been widely used as an introduction to fiction, and it provides the kind of introduction that is a disservice to its author-who wrote much better, controlled works-and to fiction itself by failing to suggest the tough-minded complexity of the greatest examples of the art.

Warren French, John Steinbeck, 1975


THE PEARL AS AN ALLEGORY

Kino is identified symbolically with low animal orders: he must rise early and he must root in the earth for sustenance; but the simple, pastoral life has the beauty of the stars, the dawn, and the singing, happy birds. Yet provided also is a realistic description of village life on the fringe of La Paz. Finally, we should observe that the allegory too has begun. The first sentence-"Kino has awakened in the near dark"- is a statement of multiple allegorical significance. Kino is what modern sociologists are fond of calling a primitive. As such, he comes from a society that is in its infancy; or, to paraphrase Steinbeck, it is in the dark or near-dark intellectually, politically, theologically, and sociologically. But the third sentence tells us that the roosters have been crowing for some time, and we are to understand that Kino has heard the cock of progress crow. He will begin to question the institutions that have kept him primitive: medicine, the church, the pearl industry, the government. The allegory operates then locally, dealing with at first one person, Kino, and then with his people, the Mexican peasants of Lower California. But the allegory works also universally, and Kino is Everyman. The darkness in which he awakes is one of the spirit. The cock crow is one of warning that the spirit must awake to its own dangers.

Harry Morris, "The Pearl: Realism and Allegory" from Steinbeck: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1972

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