Literature / The Pearl

A 1947 novella by John Steinbeck.

The Pearl is the story of Kino, a happy but poor pearl diver who lives with his wife and son in an indigent Mexican-Indian community on the Gulf. Kino's son, Coyotito, is stung by a scorpion. With no other way to pay the doctor to cure him, Kino goes diving for pearls. He finds an enormous, perfect pearl—possibly the largest ever found. He attempts to sell "the Pearl of the World," in hopes of buying a better life for his family, but it brings him nothing but trouble.

A Spanish-language Film of the Book was released, also in 1947.

Tropes:

  • Ambition Is Evil: This is the story's moral, but it's not as anvilicious as it might seem if you just read the Cliff's notes. Kino's desires are extravagant by the standards of the Mexican-Indian community he's a part of, but awfully humble compared to the lifestyle of the wealthy white folk who live in town. The narration makes it clear that it's not just the money that makes the pearl buyers balk; it's the idea that a brown man can catapult himself out of poverty through hard work and a bit of luck. They know they must stop Kino before he empowers the indigents and upsets the whole balance of society in the town.
  • Artifact of Attraction
  • Artifact of Doom: The eponymous pearl reveals that Humans Are Bastards in myriad ways. It incites domestic violence from gentle Kino, and in less good-hearted folk it drives greed, jealousy, and even murder.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Kino hopes to be able to buy some shoes with the pearl.
  • Closer to Earth: Quiet, obedient Juana is a pillar of strength for her husband, and is the power and center of their domestic lives. She wants to throw the pearl away at the first sign of trouble, but Kino had already become infatuated with the pearl and the riches it represented.
  • Downer Ending: Coyotito is killed. Kino and Juana throw away the pearl.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • The whole plot is kicked off when Coyotito is stung in his box-bed by a scorpion. The scorpion is creeping down the rope from which Coyotito's box is hanging from the ceiling; Kino is creeping forward to grab it when suddenly Coyotito playfully shakes the rope; Kino then lunges forward to catch the falling scorpion, but he just misses it, resulting in Coyotito getting stung. If (a) the scorpion hadn't been there in the first place, (b) Coyotito hadn't shaken the rope, or (c) Kino had successfully caught the scorpion, the rest of the plot wouldn't have happened.
    • Another example of a nail that happens midway through the book, the nail in this case being Kino's growing obsession with the pearl and the riches it could bring his family, even after two attempts by would-be thieves to steal the pearl from him at that point, resulting in attacks on himself and his family. Had Kino just been humble enough to sell the pearl at the first opportunity, despite the admittedly low price he was being offered for it, the last half of the book wouldn't have taken place. Lampshaded by Kino's brother Juan Tomas after the second robbery attempt:
    Juan Tomas: It is the pearl. There is a devil in this pearl. You should have sold it and passed on the devil.
    • The pearl itself is another nail. If Kino hadn't found it, the next two-thirds of the plot wouldn't have happened.
  • Gold Fever: The pearl incites a desperate greed in people.
  • Greed: A major theme in the book. Leading to...
  • Humans Are Bastards
  • Invisible Streaker: In a sense; late in the book Kino strips naked so that he'll be better camouflaged in the dark.
  • It's All Junk: After losing something irreplaceable, the pearl holds no mystique for Kino and Juana.
  • Jerkass: The doctor who treats Coyotito comes to mind...
  • Kill the Cutie: Coyotito.
  • Leitmotif: A literary example in Kino and Juana's Song of Family and The Pearl's Song of Evil.
  • MacGuffin: If it was not a real life example, it would probably be mocked as the worst example of this trope. It's a shiny iridescent bauble with absolutely no intrinsic value. In fact, the pearl buyers try to use the arbitrary value of such one-of-a-kind gem against Kino, saying it is only valuable as a novelty, and making insultingly low offers for the pearl.
  • Meaningful Name: Coyotito is, if it wasn't clear enough, named after a coyote. Which leads to him being shot in the head when his cries are mistaken for that of a coyote's
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Kino goes on one in the penultimate chapter.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Kino defeats the men who would have killed him and his family for the pearl, but his domestic bliss is gone forever.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: After all that struggle and suffering, Kino and Juana throw the pearl back into the sea.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/ThePearl