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Essay: The Pearl – Steven Steinbeck

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 4 minutes
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  • Published: 8 February 2019*
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  • Words: 1,143 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)

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‘A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities – never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked.’ Despite the fundamental dichotomy between reality and dreams, they are often perceived as indistinguishable by humanity. Dreams fuel humanity’s intense desires for the seemingly unobtainable whilst reality encourages reason, logic and moral sensibilities. John Steinbeck’s allegorical novella, ‘The Pearl’ (1947), effectively communicates the psychological and social transitions that take place when it seems that, by humanity’s ignorance, dreams can be made into reality. Steinbeck accentuates how our naïve aspirations are connected to unpleasant actualities by evaluating the superficially idyllic American Dream of wealth in the form of the ‘Pearl of the World’. The symbol of titular the pearl acts as a means of achieving dreams but is ultimately the embodiment of harsh realities such as greed. ‘Kino’s pearl went into the dreams, the speculations, the schemes, the plans, the futures, the wishes, the needs, the lusts, the hungers, of everyone.’ Through the experiences and beliefs of Kino, Juana, the priest and the doctor, the distinct contrast between our perceived dreams and reality are realised.
In ‘The Pearl’, Steinbeck highlights the human inability to distinguish dreams and reality, thereby eliminating their capacity to foresee the inevitable psychological consequences that come from attainable dreams. For Kino, the ‘pearl of great price’ initially manifests itself as the opulent catalyst to his elaborate fantasies including new clothes for his family and a proper education for his son. Eventually, these dreams extend to the possession of a rifle as ‘humans are never satisfied’. ‘And the music of the pearl rose like a chorus of trumpets in his ears … It was the wildest day-dreaming.’ Simile associates the pearl’s wealth and its accompanying anthem with victory; the victory of achieving his dreams; of being able to protect and sustain his family. However, the unsuccessful reality of Kino’s ownership of the pearl leads him to alter his reality substantially. ‘For his dream of the future was real and never to be destroyed.’ Confronted by his selfless dreams being greedily denied by others and the pearl’s music exposed to be ‘interwoven with the music of evil’, Kino becomes barbaric and violent. ‘He was an animal now, for hiding, for attacking, and he lived only to preserve himself and his family.’ Metaphor elucidates Kino’s transition to inhumanity due to the overwhelming failure of his family-focussed dreams. The only dream Kino fulfils is his possession of a rifle which he gains through the act of murder. ‘Kino was a terrible machine now. He grasped the rifle even as he wrenched free his knife.’ Depicted as apathetic automaton through metaphor, Kino’s descent into callousness and cruelty by his ambition is further displayed. Steinbeck’s ‘The Pearl’ conveys the psychological consequences that arise from dreams that are within reach.
‘The Pearl’ by Steinbeck also emphasises the imperceptible nature of dreams and reality and their effect on social contexts through the relationship between Kino and his loyal wife, Juana. Prior to the possible fulfilment of their dream of a sanctified marriage, Kino has great respect for his wife, admiring the ‘iron in his patient, fragile wife. She, who was obedient and respectful and cheerful and patient, could bear physical pain with hardly a cry.’ Accumulation of positive attributes reflect Kino’s high opinion of Juana. Later, when Kino’s dreams are threatened, his respect for his wife diminishes and thus a familial social shift is experienced. Violence becomes a mode of communication and domination for Kino. ‘He struck her in the face with his clenched fist and she fell among the boulders, and he kicked her in the side. … Juana stared at him with wide unfrightened eyes, like a sheep before the butcher.’ Simile reinforces the drastic change that has taken place in reality, leaving Juana as Kino’s defenceless prey. ‘The Pearl’ expresses the social transitions that are caused by the appearance of dreams in the realm of reality.
Furthermore, Steinbeck’s allegorical novella, ‘The Pearl’, demonstrates the change in exterior social relations between both the priest and the doctor; and Kino’s household following the emergence of the dream-fulfilling pearl. At first, the priest patronises Kino and his family relentlessly. ‘Children, he considered these people, and he treated them like children.’ Repetition strengthens the priest’s condescending views of the Mexicans and his conduct towards them. Moreover, it is evident that the priest does not even consider the lives of Kino and his family worth remembering. ‘…he wondered whether he had baptized Kino’s baby, or married him for that matter.’ Upon hearing of the ‘pearl of great price’, the priest praises and congratulates Kino in hopes of making ‘certain repairs necessary to the church’. ‘”Kino…thou art named after a great man – and a great Father of the Church.” He made it sound like a benediction.’ The formal tone and repetition of ‘great’ stress the deceitful exaggeration of the priest’s statement whilst indicating the difference in class. The priest has altered his superior manner to increase the possibility of making his dream of restoration a reality. This negative regard of Kino and his family is also present in the character of the doctor.
In spite of the medical profession’s moral code, the doctor is uninterested in the wellbeing of the Mexicans. ‘”Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for ‘little Indians’? I am a doctor, not a veterinary.”’ It is clear that the doctor has a derogatory perspective of the Mexicans through the belittling and incorrect label of ‘little Indian’ and the belief that they are ‘simple animals’. But, when it seems that his dreams of Paris may be achieved, the doctor exploits Kino’s ignorance and strives to become affiliated with him. ‘”He is a client of mine…I am treating his child for a scorpion sting.” And the doctor’s eyes rolled up a little in their fat hammocks and he thought of Paris.’ High modality accentuates the doctor’s determination to bring his accessible dream to fruition. Essentially, the doctor has exchanged his discrimination for magnanimity in light of a way to accomplish his dreams. ‘The Pearl’ by Steinbeck explores the change that occurs in social relations in order to make dreams a reality.
Steinbeck’s ‘The Pearl’ communicates the psychological and social changes produced by dreams on the brink of reality. They include the psychological transition of Kino’s selfless hopes to a cruel, animalistic reality; the social shift of the relationship between Kino and Juana from respectful to dominating; and the altered treatment of the Mexicans by both the priest and the doctor are portrayed as consequences of attainable dreams. In ‘The Pearl’, Steinbeck has conveyed the disregarded dichotomy of dreams and reality as the catalyst of psychological and social effects on humanity.

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