Whether by prayer, quest, or lottery ticket, humans have long expressed their dreams of a better life. Many are the tales about this phenomenon and, more often than not, the tales end in tragedy for the pleasure seeker. This longing for something better is the theme of John Steinbeck's 1947 The Pearl.
Steinbeck was disillusioned in the aftermath of World War II. He realized that none of his heroes— the GI, the vagrant, or the scientific visionary— could negotiate survival in a civilization that created the atomic bomb. Repentance, as attempted by his characters in his novel The Wayward Bus (1947), was not enough. Fittingly, he reflected his disillusionment through a legend about a man who finds The Pearl of the World and is eventually destroyed by greed.
The legend tells of an Indian pearl diver who cannot afford a doctor for his son's scorpion sting. In this anxious state, he finds The Pearl of the World and is able to get medical help for his boy. Calculating the profit from the gem, the diver dreams of a better life—a grand wedding, clothes, guns, and an education for the boy. But his dream of leaving his socio-economic station leads to ruin. As he attempts to escape those that want to take the pearl from him, he is tracked by professional hitmen and tragedy ensues. No pearl is worth the price Kino and his wife pay, so they throw the pearl back. Their story is a warning to restless dreamers yearning for an easy or magical solution to their problems.