John Steinbeck

The Pearl


The Pearl by John Steinbeck is a novella and is based on a tradition of oral story telling.  Steinbeck, one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century, moves this tale of love and pain a step beyond the storytelling tradition.   In the orally told story, the message or moral heard by the listener is likely to have been quite different from the message contemporary readers get from this story.  As you read, search for the moral that would have been heard by villagers as they listened to this story of the pearl and the poor Mexican fisherman who found it.  Each reader will take from this story something different.  In part, these differences in interpretation come from differences in experiences brought to the story by each reader.



The main characters of this story, Kino and Juana, are only important in terms of how they develop the storyline. They are relatively undeveloped and in terms of contemporary fiction, they are flat characters. However, this is true in most of the oral storytelling tradition.  The importance of this tale lies not in the individual characters, but in what the listener/reader takes away from the tale.  The supporting cast of characters takes on more significance than those characters that provide the story’s action.  These secondary characters carry the symbolic and thematic message of the tale.