Many books are written in order to tell a story. However, few books are written which cause the reader to look at issues that are deeper than the plot.
An author's ability to engage the reader in a novel is usually what creates classic literature. John Steinbeck is known as one of those authors and his novel, The Pearl, is noted as a classic. The Pearl is a novel in which a poor pearl diver named Kino finds a pearl the size of one that has never been imagined. His experiences with his riches are the main scheme. Characters and themes are plentiful in The Pearl and are widely discussed among critics. For that reason, this paper will compare, contrast, and assess the criticisms on the characters and themes in The Pearl.
In The Pearl, the characters are discussed among critics in a similar opinion. The characters in The Pearl are produced to portray "universal types"Ã¯Â¿Â½ of people (Shuman 1896).
This means that Steinbeck made the characters to have characteristics of people in reality. Millichap states "Steinbeck's characters in The Pearl are real people in a real world"ÃÂ¦"Ã¯Â¿Â½ Also, Millichap describes them as an representative family, with the same aspirations as an ordinary family (2527). Furthermore, Riley sees Kino as having a "talismanic relationship,"Ã¯Â¿Â½ created to be an average man, against evil. Kino goes through the stages as many people do in real life, "man attaching"Ã¯Â¿Â½ himself to an object to satisfy a need, "man infusing his spirit into his possession, and man as the talisman"Ã¯Â¿Â½ for seeing his own relationship as a whole (407). Thus, these critics have similar opinions about the characters in The Pearl in that they are made to represent real people.
The Pearl contains evidence that best supports Shuman and Millichap's criticisms on the characters in the novel. More specifically, their observations on the fact that Steinbeck created the characters to represent people of the real world. Characters in the novel have the same wants, needs, and downfalls as people in reality. For example, Kino, a poor pearl diver, wants nothing more than to send his son Coyotito to school. One of his first reactions after finding the pearl that would make him a rich man is imagining his son at school. ""ÃÂ¦he saw Coyotito sitting at a little desk in a school"ÃÂ¦Coyotito was writing on a big piece of paper"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (25). Like many people today, one of the most important things to Kino is giving his child an education. Often times one hears of a story where a family from the ghetto becomes rich. Then with their newfound wealth give their children the education that they once could not afford. That is one way Steinbeck allowed his characters to represent universal types. Another example of the characters representation of real people can be seen through Kino's experience with newfound wealth. Kino and his family live a simple life until one day Kino finds a pearl that is priceless. Instead of happiness, Kino is surrounded by corruptness. Everywhere Kino turns someone is trying to profit from the pearl. When Kino went in to the pearl dealers' office he expected then to offer a handsome sum for his pearl. Instead, the dealers arranged their speeches before Kino arrived. "This is not a pearl-it is a monstrosity"ÃÂ¦better pearls are made of paste"ÃÂ¦"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (51). This shows that the characters have the same troubles as anyone else. Money is a known source of evil that Kino deals with like many people in actuality. Another example of the character's universal traits can be looked at through Juana. Juana is Kino's wife and mother to Coyotito. A typical Indian woman, Juana's main duties are to aid Kino and care for Coyotito. This can be seen after a poisonous scorpion stings Coyotito. "She found the puncture with redness"ÃÂ¦she put her lips down over the puncture and sucked hard"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (6). With this in mind, one can see that Juana is like most mothers. Warm, loving, and doing whatever possible to keep her young safe. Juana was not created as an exceptional woman nor was she created as an awful mother. She was created to represent those characteristics that are in every woman, as a universal type. Consequently, Shuman and Millichap are accurate in their criticisms on the characters in The Pearl.
The novel also contains many themes that are discussed among critics with contrasting opinions on which is the main theme. According to Millichap, the main theme in The Pearl is the evil that is produced through wealth. Kino "thought the pearl a key to easy living"ÃÂ¦"Ã¯Â¿Â½ However, the critic goes on to state how Kino's life turned for the worst due to his riches (2527). An electronic critic believes the main theme of the novel is "difference in social status."Ã¯Â¿Â½ More specifically "the oppression of the Indians"ÃÂ¦"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (Gunn). Conversely, Shuman sees the main theme as dreams. In particular, the human dream. Additionally, Shuman states that the message about the human dream is that a person's dignity is derived from effort and not material possessions (1896). Hence, the main theme of The Pearl is an argumentative subject among critics.
Gunn's opinion on the main theme of The Pearl is best supported by the events in the novel. Indeed, social difference is the main theme of the novel and through the oppression of the Indians this can be made clear. One example is the experience that Kino and his family have with a Spanish doctor from the city. Kino's son Coyotito is lying in his crib when Kino spots a scorpion dangling above the child's head on the mobile. Before Kino could seize the poisonous insect it falls into the crib and plunges its tail into the shoulder of the infant. Knowing very well that a doctor would not come to an impecunious family's home, Juana and Kino take the baby to the home of the doctor. As they approach the gate the doctor who is informed of the situation stops them. He answers, "Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for "ÃÂlittle Indians'? I am a doctor, not a veterinary"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (11). Clearly, the doctor does not treat the baby due to his racial background. His sarcastic remark about being a veterinarian ultimately signifies that these people are animals in his eyes. Also, the fact that the doctor noticed that Kino was Indian before he asked how they would pay shows the stereotype that the rich had about Indians. This stereotype being Indians are always poor people. Another example of the oppression of Indians can be seen through the trackers. The trackers are the men sent out to steal the pearl from Kino. Ever since Kino finds the pearl, people are out to get it. Murder is an option to these trackers if it means attaining the pearl. Ironically, two of the three trackers are Indians like Kino while the leader is a Spaniard. Sensing that the trackers are after him, Kino kills the three men, but Kino's son Coyotito is killed during the battle. ""ÃÂ¦Kino had become as cold and deadly as steel"ÃÂ¦he raised the gun and aimed deliberately and fired"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (87). This shows the oppression of the Indians when the Spanish turn Kino's own race against him. Even though two trackers are of Indian heritage, they still go after Kino because of the influence of the rich. Influence of this nature causes further oppression when Indians must resort to killing each other in order to survive. Another example is when the priest comes to visit with Kino and Juana once the word of the pearl spreads around town. The priest tries to benefit from the finding of the pearl by causing Kino to make donations. "I hope thou wilt remember to give thanks, my son, to Him who has given thee this treasure"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (28). While the priest says this Kino had the song of evil in his mind, which denotes that something awful is around him. This shows that the Catholic Church saw Indians as inferior. Just like all the Spanish people, the Catholic Church is used to oppress the Indians. Oppression of Kino who is trying to break free of his social order is evident in this event. Thus, Gunn's criticism on the theme in The Pearl can be proven by events in the novel.
In conclusion, the characters and themes in The Pearl are major literary elements that Steinbeck has used in making the story so loved by many. Kino and Juana can be looked at as authentic people with the same traits as people in reality. Their actions can be used to understand one's own experiences in life. Also, the themes in the novel explain many aspects of life. The social status, which is still present today, can be seen through a historical portrayal with the oppression of the Indians in the novel. These aspects give The Pearl the ability to allow each reader to read his own life into the story.
Work Cited Gunn, Drewey Wayne. "Pearl, The."Ã¯Â¿Â½ Masterplots Complete on CD-ROM. CD ROM.
Salem Press, 1996.
Millichap, Joseph R. "John Steinbeck."Ã¯Â¿Â½ Critical Survey of Long Fiction. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs: Salem Press, 1983.
Riley, Carolyn, and Phyllis, Carmel Mendelson, eds. "Steinbeck, John."Ã¯Â¿Â½ Contemporary Literary Criticism. Volume 5. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1976.
Shuman, R. Baird. "Steinbeck, John."Ã¯Â¿Â½ Magill's Survey of American Literature. Ed.
Frank N. Magill. Vol 6. New York: Salem Press, 1991.
Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. New York: Penguin Book USA, Inc., 1992.