I have always wanted to read Steinbeck but never had the courage to tackle the massive and complicated volumes such as East of Eden or the Grapes of Wrath. Honestly, I didn’t find the synopsis very intriguing… Another tragedy, another long journey towards disappointment. What kind of lessons should I derive from books like those?
The Pearl, a novella by the said author, might give me the partial satisfaction to my mixed desire for Steinbeck. I pulled the mint copy out of a school’s library and only managed to read the first two pages. As soon as I got the e-reader, it became my first paid ebook.
The story is about a poor indigenous diver named Kino, his obedient wife Juana, and their baby son Coyotito. One fine morning, Coyotito gets beaten by a scorpion, but the worried parents find themselves without the means to afford the doctor’s service. Juana prays that they would find a pearl worthy enough to pay for the doctor and miraculously, her wish is fulfilled: Kino pulls out the “pearl of the world” from his diving for the day. The hard-working parents delightedly plan for the better future for their life together and the baby son, but things suddenly got worse for the greed and jealousy of the unseen enemies.
While I was reading this book, I was impressed with Steinbeck’s rich usage of verbs. I have seen authors boast their writing skills with their exceptional command of descriptive adjectives, and Steinbeck describes characters and setting primarily throughout actions. In the beginning of the book, he sets particular setting around Kino’s house to suggest the readers about his natural and humble indigenous life:
Now Kino got up and wrapped his blanket about his head and nose and shoulders. he slipped his feet into his sandals and went outside to watch the dawn. Outside the door he squatted down and gathered the blanket ends about his knees. He saw the specks of Gulf clouds flame high in the air. And a goat came near and sniffed at him and stared with its cold yellow eyes. Behind him Juana’s fire leaped into flame and threw spears of light through the chinks of the brush-house wall…A late moth blustered in to find the fire.
This first scene of Kino’s humble morning imprinted on reader’s mind brings a particular light to the description of the doctor’s morning few pages later.
In his chamber the doctor sat up in his high bed. He had on his dressing gown of red watered silk that had come from Paris…His eyes rested in puffy little hammocks of flesh and his mouth drooped with discontent. He was growing very stout…He poured his second cup of chocolate and crumbled a sweet biscuit in his fingers. (p.22)
The tension between the two mornings really sets the tone of the major conflicts of the novel: the simplicity of the indigine and the arrogance of the Europeans. However, there is little in the novel that suggests Kino as a representation of a broader group. After all, this is a story of a humble family that are no different from the norms and traditions. Kino’s wife Juana reminds me of O Lan, the wife of Wang Lung in the Good Earth in the way she made no resistance to the hurtful traditions against women.
The Pearl is another precious volume that instils a sense of diversity and compassion, for its shedding truthful light on a humble indigenous family suffering under the lies and exploitation of capitalism. I will definitely progress into one of Steinbeck’s full novels any time soon, having tasted the central theme of his stories.