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The Pearl . By John Steinbeck. Introduction. John Steinbeck was a social activist. He became the voice of the poor and the oppressed, people who had no one to speak for them. Parable – a brief story, usually with human characters, that is told to teach a lesson.

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The pearl l.jpg

The Pearl

By John Steinbeck

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  • John Steinbeck was a social activist. He became the voice of the poor and the oppressed, people who had no one to speak for them.

  • Parable – a brief story, usually with human characters, that is told to teach a lesson.

  • Steinbeck wrote: “If this story is a parable, perhaps everyone takes his own meaning from it and reads his own life into it.” In other words, “The Pearl” will mean something different to each of you.

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Steinbeck and the Parable

  • Steinbeck hinted that “The Pearl” is both symbolic and literal. In other words, the story can be about the struggles of the poor or how sudden wealth can change everything for any family. It is can also be seen as simply the story about one family.

  • The symbolic meaning of the story may differ from reader to reader.

  • The story is more than just a plot (this happened and this and then this).

  • The reader needs to understand that there is meaning below the surface of the story.

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  • In the 16th century the Spanish landed in Mexico and overthrew the Aztecs.

  • The Spaniards enslaved the native people of the area.

  • Today, these people are not slaves but they make up the underclass of Mexican society.

  • The descendants of the Spanish conquerors are still richer and more powerful than the rest of the population. They make up the ruling class of Mexico.

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Social Classes of Mexican Culture

  • The doctor, the priest, and the pearl buyers are all of Spanish descent (upper class).

  • Kino and his family practice the Catholic religion, but still hold onto their belief in the pagan gods.

  • The upper class looks down on the poor native people because of their beliefs, their race, and their poverty.

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Characters and Objects

  • The characters are also symbols used to show meaning and teach a lesson.

    • Kino

    • Juana

    • Coyotito

    • the doctor

    • the pearl-buyers

    • the priest

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  • Good versus Evil

  • The most prominent theme in the parable of the pearl is that of the struggle between good and evil. In parables everything is generally black and white. Characters are almost always one thing or Throughout the story the songs that Kino hears in his head tells him on an instinctual level the true nature of someone or some thing (think of Peter Parker’s spider-sense). person true nature. Thus, the song of evil accompanies the Priest who treats the Indians like children and the doctor who regards them as animals.

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  • Good versus Evil(continued)

  • The song of the family accompanies the life-sustaining morning activities and later on as the family flees from their pursuers. To Kino anything that threatens the family is evil. Thus the song of evil can also accompany natural things like the scorpion which stings Coyotito. The pearl, also a product of nature, is never clearly defined as inherently good or evil. Rather its effect upon the family is shown to be evil once it has proven to be a treacherous holder of Kino’s dreams.

  • .

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  • Poverty versus WealthThe pearl’s immediate and lasting effect upon Kino is to cause him to dream of better things for himself and for his family. Although the pearl attracts attackers and pursuers, Kino is determined that it shall be the means by which his family rises above their station and, most importantly, his son achieves an education.

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  • Poverty versus WealthIn this way the story is a political one. The story shows and draws moral conclusions about the differences between early nineteenth century Mexico’s poor, characterized by the sympathetic characters such as Kino and Juana and the country’s rich portrayed using unsympathetic characters like the doctor.

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  • FamilyAlthough Kino begins the story with the “song of the family” running through his head, he is soon sidetracked by the desires generated by the pearl. Though these desires are for things that Kino believes will make the family stronger – a rifle, a marriage, education – It is Juana who struggles to maintain the family as it once was.

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  • FamilySignificantly, it is Juana who first suggests destroying the peal between two stones and actually attempts to free her family of its influence by throwing it back into the sea. She realizes that the family would have no meaning without Kino and give in to his desire to sell the pearl in the city..

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  • FamilyJust as the family is what drives Kino’s desires, so does the sense of family bind Juana to his side when she refuses to part with him during their flight into the mountains. Once Coyotito has been killed, however, the family has ceased to exist and Kino can see that the pearl, contrary to his initial belief, has brought nothing but bad fortune.

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  • FortuneThe operations of chance and the effort to tell good luck from bad luck in an underlying theme in the story. The pearl itself is the byproduct of a chance grain of sand embedding in an oyster.

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  • FortuneAdditionally, Kino’s finding of the pearl is depicted as the lucky moment of collusion of being in the right place at the right time with the right need. The luck that that the pearl brings Kino’s family, however, is revealed to be bad luck when his attempt to sell it at a fair price leads to the death of his only son.

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Other Themes

  • The struggle for survival is shown in two different ways:

    • The struggle of the poor to survive

    • The conflict between good and evil

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Other Themes

  • Free will vs. determination (everything is fixed and you can’t change it)

  • Oppression by the rich and powerful on the poor.

  • How wealth and possessions can corrupt people

  • The relationship of human beings to nature

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Characters and Objects

  • The Pearl

    • At first the pearl is a wonderful thing. It represents an escape from poverty and a chance for the Indians to eventually become free of the domination of the Spanish. It is wonderful luck, an accident, something sent by God.

    • Eventually, the pearl begins to corrupt everyone it touches, even seemingly innocent people such as Kino. He begins to think more about the pearl than about his family. Almost everyone seeing the pearl falls under its spell and will do anything to get it.

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Characters and Objects

  • The Pearl

    • Eventually, the pearl begins to corrupt everyone it touches, even seemingly innocent people such as Kino. He begins to think more about the pearl than about his family. Almost everyone seeing the pearl falls under its spell and will do anything to get it.

    • Think of the ring in “Lord of the Rings”

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  • Steinbeck believed that there was a bond between man and the land in which he lives, that each is somehow special to the other.

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  • Mi tierra concept - my land

  • The Indians believed the place of their birth to be important and believed that they should remain in their birthplace.

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Chapter 1

  • Setting: Before finding the pearl, Kino and his family living in harmony with nature

  • Songs and what they mean (the Song of the Family, the Song of Evil, etc.)

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Chapter 1

  • Imagery of music and songs, harmony and peace

  • Story begins at dawning of a new day

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Chapter 1

  • Songs can show the world at peace or out of control.

  • Kino is living the way he is supposed to do.

  • Kino and Juana have a harmonious relationship

  • The man is clearly the head of the family.

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Chapter 1

  • Struggle for survival (life is a constant one)

  • Complication – intruder – the scorpion

  • Kino reacts; emotional (smashing the scorpion)

  • Juana – thinks and uses logic (draws out the poison, takes the baby to the doctor, etc.)

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Chapter 1

  • Doctor will only treat the baby if he is paid. He refuses the first time when he sees that Kino has only the poor seed pearls.

  • The servant tells Kino the doctor has gone.

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Chapter 2

  • Kino must find a way to pay for medical treatment so he goes diving for pearls.

  • Juana uses traditional ways to fight the poison (first, sucking the poison out; later making a seaweed poultice)

  • Song of the Pearl That Might Be

  • Kino finds a huge pearl

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Chapter 3

  • The Pearl of the World

  • Now that Kino has the pearl, people treat him differently

  • The priest, the doctor and the pearl buyers all make plans because of the pearl. All seem motivated by greed.

  • Later, Juana tells Kino the pearl is evil and will destroy them, but Kino says the pearl is the key to the family’s future and a symbol of hope for all of his people.

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Chapter 3 – Kino’s dreams

  • With the pearl, the baby can be cured.

  • Kino and Juana can get married in the church.

  • They can all buy new clothes.

  • Kino can buy a rifle.

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Chapter 3

  • Coyotito can get an education and all Kino’s people: “My son will make numbers, and these things will make us free because he will know and through him we will know."

  • After the doctor’s visit, Kino hides the pearl. The doctor tricks Kino into showing where it is.

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Chapter 3

  • That night, someone tries to steal the pearl. Kino attacks the person with his knife.

  • Juana tells Kino the pearl is evil and to throw it away.

  • Kino says the pearl is there one chance and he will sell it the next day.

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Chapter 4

  • Everyone in La Paz knows that Kino is going to sell the pearl that day.

  • Some say he will give it to the Pope or buy Masses for the souls of his family for a thousand years.

  • Others say he will give the money to the poor.

  • Everyone worries that the pearl will destroy Kino and his family.

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Chapter 4

  • The people’s plans for charity are opposite of what Kino plans for his family.

  • Good and charitable ideas are easier when it is someone else’s money being spent.

  • Kino and Juana have hard decisions to make, not matter what they do.

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Chapter 4

  • Juan Tomas (Kino’s brother) warns him to get the best price for the pearl.

  • Once the Indians hired an agent to negotiate for them and take the pearls to Mexico City, but the agents were never seen again. Some say they were stolen by the agents; others think that the agents were murdered and the pearls stolen from them. In any event, the pearls are never seen again.

  • The priest tells the Indians that this is a warning from God not to try and change their place in the world.

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Chapter 4

  • Pearl buyer tells Kino the pearl is like fool’s gold: too large and not valuable

  • He is offered 1,000 pesos; Kino says it is worth 50,000 pesos.

  • The buyer seems to be trying to cheat Kino.

  • Kino can feel evil around him as the other buyers inspect the pearl.

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Chapter 4

  • The pearl dealer, like the priest and the doctor, tries to manipulate Kino.

  • He tries to cheat Kino out of his money.

  • No other pearl dealer will pay more.

  • By refusing to sell the pearl, Kino is taking on the entire power structure of his society. This could be very dangerous.

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Chapter 4

  • Kino says he will go to the capital (Mexico City) to sell the pearl.

  • The townspeople argue about whether Kino should have taken the money.

  • Kino buries the pearl again and is angry and terrified.

  • Juan Tomas says that Kino is challenging the people in power. He could change everything.

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Chapter 4

  • Juan Tomas says his friends will only protect him if he is not in danger. They will not do anything to jeopardize their own safety.

  • That night, Kino is attacked again when he tries to protect the pearl.

  • Juana says the pearl is evil and must be destroyed. Kino says he is a man and will not be cheated by anyone.

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Chapter 4

  • Kino is willing to fight for the pearl.

  • Kino is demanding just and respectful treatment.

  • Juana is the voice of reason. She warns Kino about what could happen. She thinks the pearl is evil.

  • Finding the pearl should have meant security and prosperity. Instead, it seems to offer only pain and danger.

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Chapter 5

  • Juana takes the pearl and goes to throw it in the ocean.

  • Kino stops her and punches and kicks her.

  • Kino says he is a man; Juana knows this means that he is half insane and half a god.

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Chapter 5

  • Kino is again attacked by strangers and kills one of them.

  • He loses the pearl in the fight but Juana finds it later.

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Chapter 5

  • Kino knows that they must run away from the village to save their lives.

  • Kino finds that someone has put a hole in his canoe. To Kino this is worse than killing a man because a canoe does not have sons who can seek revenge. Kino does not even think of stealing another canoe, which would mean starvation for the other canoe’s owner.

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Chapter 5

  • Juana tells him that their hut has been searched and set on fire.

  • Kino hides at his brother’s house. His brother lets him stay but only reluctantly.

  • His brother says that the pearl is the cause of all the trouble.

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Chapter 5

  • Juan Tomas says that perhaps Kino should have sold the pearl, but now it is too late.

  • Kino says that to give up the pearl would be the same thing as giving up his soul.

  • Kino says that he will head north in the morning and head to the capital, Mexico City.

  • Kino finds that he is willing to kill to keep the pearl.

  • Juana begins to realize that Kino cannot win and may end up destroying himself.

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Chapter 6

  • While on the journey, Kino finds himself both excited and afraid.

  • Kino tells Juana that anyone who finds them will take the pearl.

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Chapter 6

  • Juana wonders if maybe the pearl really was worthless, but Kino says no one would be trying so hard to steal a worthless pearl.

  • Kino again imagines all of the things he will do with the pearl if he sells it, but everything he sees in the pearl now seems evil and twisted.

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Chapter 6

  • They are being followed by three trackers, one on horse with a rifle.

  • Kino and Juana realize they will be killed if they are found.

  • Kino realizes he must kill the man on horseback and get his rifle.

  • Kino tells Juana to take the baby and leave him but she refuses.

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Chapter 6

  • Juana hides in a cave with Coyotito.

  • Kino takes off his white clothing so he can be less visible.

  • The family is being hunted like animals. Kino especially becomes like an animal.

  • Juana retains her human qualities.

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Chapter 6

  • Kino kills all three attackers, but the baby is also killed.

  • When Kino and Juana return to La Paz, he throws the pearl back into the sea.

  • When he does this, he throws away his pain along with his dreams of wealth.