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  • Writer's picturePaul Jameson

My thoughts on 'The Pearl' by Steinbeck

Sometimes, with some authors, when you finish one of their works you have to give it time to settle, let it 'become', before casting judgement, so to speak. Steinbeck is one of those authors. I love his narrative and prose, of that there is no doubt. Steinbeck takes you to where 'there' is. As @williamCKent (a friend on Twitter) who described on reading the Grapes of Wrath:

'I felt as if I needed to dump the dust from my shoes and was always hungry...'

Quite perfectly put.

Steinbeck does do this., and in 'The Pearl' I was taken into a poor but happy fisherman's hut. Could smell the sea, feel the grime beneath fingers, taste sweat in t' air; and so too did I feel the corruption of the civilised in the character of the Doctor; blinked blind against the glare of white-washed buildings whist I read. Indeed, it seemed, I was in Mexico.

Throughout the book, Steinbeck took me to different places. Under the sea. Salty, cool, where I held my breath. Into the desert where my mouth turned dry, and I really did hear the noisy silence, felt sand in shoes and tasted dust; I actually needed water. And for that I love his writing. Have no doubt. However I was less convinced by the story of 'The Pearl' itself. I understand Steinbeck's exploration of how finding promised wealth in the form of a perfect pearl leads to corruption and loss of what is happy and perfect. Corruption, greed, ambition, avarice all rear heads, but...

For me...

It seems he falls down on the understanding of love. Steinbeck convinced me the love of the main character Kino for Juana was real, and so the act on which the story turns made no sense. Leastways, not for me. In a way, the whole thread of the story and narrative unravelled, made little sense, and seemed something of a lazy trope used without proper thought. Other than that, everything else was believable and beautifully put; an exploration of societal and commercial systems built on money, greed and with-holding education to keep the downtrodden in their place; and how one man's attempt to break out through the discovery of unexpected wealth destroys that which is most precious to him - and thus the pearl is ultimately ugly and worthless. Despite my misgivings on the crux of the story, I'd still recommend the novel as a good classic read. I enjoyed it. But with that one flaw it just left me with an unconvinced taste in my mouth. A shame. 3.8 stars out of 5 from me.


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