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Free Study Guide-The Pearl by John Steinbeck-Free Online BookNotes
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Author Information

John Steinbeck wrote about subjects and characters that he knew and understood. His early works were set in his home state of California and were marked by compassion and understanding of the world's disinherited; his later novels were stories about the Indians and their struggle against nature and the people who constantly sought to crush them.

John Earnest Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, on February 27, 1902. He was influenced during his early years by his mother, Olive Hamilton Steinbeck, who was a public school teacher. She spent time reading to and teaching her son, and he developed a great appreciation for literature. Steinbeck himself was not a brilliant student, but he wrote for his high school newspaper. He also performed well enough to enter Stanford University, but he did not attend regularly and never earned a degree. During his college years, he contributed poems and short stories to the Stanford literary magazine. In 1925, he went to work in New York; but finding the fast life unsuitable to his creative needs, he returned to California and started writing his novels. Cup of Gold, his first novel, marked his entry into the literary world in 1929.

In 1930, Steinbeck married Carol Henning, and they settled in Pacific Grove. It was there that he met Ed Rickets, who had a marked influence on his life and writing. In fact, Rickets became a character in several Steinbeck novels. Rickets also extensively explored marine life along the Baja coast with Steinbeck. The two men collaborated on a book entitled The Sea of Cortez to document their expedition. Steinbeck's The Pearl is also a culmination of their Gulf of California marine exploration.

In 1932, Steinbeck published his first California novel, The Pastures of Heaven, followed by To a God Unknown in 1933. Neither book was very popular. Real recognition came to Steinbeck with the publication of Tortilla Flat, in 1935; this book was recognized as the year's best novel by a Californian. In Dubious Battle was published in 1936 and Of Mice and Men in 1937. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's best and most popular novel, was published in 1939; it has been translated into several languages and several million copies have been sold worldwide. The novel also earned him the Pulitzer Prize. During the war, Steinbeck served as a special war correspondent for the "New York Herald Tribune". In the midst of the war in 1945, he published The Pearl in a magazine; two years later it was published as a book. Steinbeck's last major novel, The Winter of our Discontent, again reinforced his literary ability. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Steinbeck died in 1969, but his works stand as a legacy of a compassionate author who wrote mainly about oppressed people, their lives, and the small joys that infused color into their otherwise humdrum and mundane existences.


John Steinbeck adopted The Pearl from a legendary tale often repeated in California. The original story was about an Indian boy who found an unbelievably large pearl. He thought that by owning the pearl, he could attain all the happiness he wanted. He refused to sell his treasure until he could get the right price for it. But other people grew jealous of him for having the pearl; he was attacked and scorned. Because his treasure had turned into a torture, the boy threw it back into the Gulf.

In writing The Pearl, Steinbeck changes the original folk tale. The small boy has been replaced by a mature father with different wants and needs from those of a small lad. Kino wants to sell the pearl in order to give a better education to his son and to give a better life to his family, a life free from poverty and starvation. Additionally, Steinbeck adds characters to his story. Juana, Juan Tomas and his wife, the doctor, the priest, and the mercenary pearl buyers are all Steinbeck originals. Thus, while Steinbeck has borrowed from another story to form his own version of it, he has enriched it with his usual legendary style, giving it various nuances and levels of meaning.

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