Pearl, by John Steinbeck, has been noted as one of the most highly regarded novels in United States since World War II. Its appealing characters and obvious allegory have helped to make it a mainstay in American literature.
A parable is a short work, usually fictitious, that illustrates a lesson, often on the subject of good and evil and the novel reads like a one; rich in religious overtones of temptation and greed. This is reminiscent of the New Testament, where many of Christ's lessons are told in parable form. The biblical tone is underscored by Steinbeck's mention in the preface of the struggle between good and evil. Also, like the Bible (and traditional folktales), The Pearl contains little dialogue. The characters speak infrequently, but their thoughts and feelings are made clear through Steinbeck's powerful descriptions. He excelled at selecting the exact word and correct turn of phrase- and his lack of dialogue emphasize the quiet intensity and simple manner of his characters. Their nonverbal quality helps to reinforce their discomfort in the presence of the sophisticated doctor, priest, and pearl buyers, who are experts at using language. Steinbeck used a unique style of writing that not only uses these religious aspects to define itself, but also to makes it personal to any reader. The third-person narrative is also flexible in its focus on characters. It allows you to change perspectives and to judge the characters for their individual thoughts and actions. The thoughts and actions of characters are not filtered through the intelligence of one person, as in a first-person narration, but are presented reasonably objectively and with the wide-ranging facts available to an omniscient narrator.
The story was not entirely Steinbeck's invention. In 1940, he and long-time friend Ed Ricketts set out on a sailing trip that would later be described in Steinbeck's non-fiction work The Sea of Cortez. During the trip, Steinbeck heard a legend about the misfortunes of a poor fisherboy who had found a great pearl. Inspired by the legend, Steinbeck wrote and published The Pearl in a magazine in 1945 under the title "The Pearl of the World." The story struck a chord with readers immediately and in 1947 it was published as a book and adapted as a film. According to author Warren French the novel was noted as perfect, self-contained parable that can be read in a variety of ways - it provides consolation for the unsuccessful, a pat on the back for those who choose freedom over wealth, and a scourging of guilt of those who have suffered for choosing to serve..."
Greed has long been a topic of substance and themes in American literature and parables alike because some believe that each person's life is formed by a series of choices. In the novel, human beings are never really free, because the course of their lives is determined by the detrimental choices made. Many critics and readers alike believe that greed is a direct evil as Steinbeck alludes to the Pearl. According to Howard Levant, author of The novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study, claims that Steinbeck "worked out most of his novels, but that he thought out The Pearl." This "thought out" process leads the readers to make decisions of free will and are able to see the direct consequences for certain actions that are made. Steinbeck knew the importance of laying out a parable that flowed naturally. Greed, free will and the forces of evil are prevalent to reader early on in the novel. For example, Kino immediately realizes that he has found an impressive pearl when he finds the oyster during his dive, leaving this large oyster as the final one to be opened. Kino is a simple man following the simple rules of life. His character is at the beginning of the temptation phase just as Jesus is tempted by Satan in the Bible. This creates a sense of tension and anticipation as the reader realizes the significance of the pearl he has found and the decisions he faces. This directly parallels religious overtones of free will: choosing which way is right and the pressures and influences of others that directly relate to the pulling and tugging of good vs. evil.
Even though the characters are somewhat flat, the story does not create a monotonous and dull parable. These characters fulfill literary possibilities without making defined judgments to the reader. The reader is forced to make not only judgments about the characters and their decisions, but also personal insights into their own lives. The town is a central "illusion of organic life..." (Levant, p.190) Steinbeck gives us key insights into this town and the tug and pull effect it has on Kino:
town is thing like a colonial animal.
A town has a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet. A town is thing separate from all other towns, so that there are no two town alike.
And a town has a whole emotion. (TP. P.32)
The corrupting power of the town is pervasive and more powerful than the life of the villagers itself. When things begin to go awry, due to Kino's find, temptation, gossip, greed and evil begin to lurk and ultimately begin a conflict for Kino. He is ultimately forced to make choices, hence, begin the free will process.
The Pearl is personal due to these choices and consequences chosen by Kino. The metaphorical treatment of Steinbeck's words is much more sophisticated and lends far more reality to the greed of the people around him. Kino, in his humble way, refuses (chooses) to not sell the pearl to the doctor or the priest. This truth in and of itself is concealed by custom and by the teachings of the Church. More than anything, Kino wants money so that he can pay for his son's education, purchase a rifle, and provide economic security for his family. But Kino never has the chance to find out if money buys happiness. Instead, he learns that the pearl is more of a curse than he can handle. The pearl, like an evil magnet, attracts a host of greedy people, and the only way for Kino to escape these people is to get rid of the object they seek. Kino discovers that wealth and good fortune are beyond his reach.
An important novel can usually be interpreted on many levels, and this is certainly the case with The Pearl. The book's structure is as simple as the legend, or folktale, on which it is based: It begins and ends with Kino as an impoverished fisherman who, in the process of pursuing his dream, is nearly destroyed. Readers often speak of The Pearl as an allegory or a parable.
An allegory is a story meant to teach a spiritual or moral lesson, in which the characters and action symbolize abstract concepts. A parable is a short allegory, which has long been associated with the New Testament. Christ used parables to teach moral lessons (for example, the Good Samaritan and the lesson of the Talents). Some readers see The Pearl as an allegory of social oppression. In this view, Juan Tomas is a symbol of the ancient Indian wisdom, Kino is a symbol of the Indians' desire for freedom, and the doctor, priest, and pearl buyers are symbols of the oppressive Spanish culture. The pearl represents Kino's means of escaping oppression, but the powerful forces of the social system are too strong for even the pearl to overcome. When Kino throws his great treasure back into the sea, the message seems to be that the poor Indian doesn't have a chance.
Other readers see in The Pearl a strong allegorical message about human greed. Kino becomes the symbol of the poor but happy man who…