What inspired John Steinbeck to write The Pearl?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator


The Pearl is quite different from most of Steinbeck's other works. While he is a master of creating interesting stories and complex characters, he was very disillusioned after World War II and became more concerned with a more philosophical approach to figuring out the meaning of life. So, in this novella, you will find a parable, similar to Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. In spite of his non-Christian world view, there are a lot of Biblical images in this story. It is about a man who is destroyed by greed. He finds "the pearl of great price" but the love of the pearl makes him forget the important things in life, like love, his family, etc. No earthly treasure is worth the price that must be paid for keeping the pearl, in this story.

In this story, the pearl diver, Kino, has made the pearl his idol and it becomes more important to him than the original purpose of why he wanted it, which was to pay for his son's medical care.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck was inspired to write his novella The Pearl after visiting the La Paz, Baja California Sur, with his good friend and marine biologist Ed Ricketts on their Sea of Cortez expedition.  A city which is featured in The Pearl, La Paz is the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, an area which supports some 900 islands.  Near La Paz, there is the Isla Espiritu Santo, considered the "crown jewel" of the Gulf.  Pearl divers have found many in this area; and, pearls from the sea are valued more highly than freshwater pearls.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Ricketts inspired much of Steinbeck's writing.  His lab on Cannery Row figures into the novel of the same name, and Ricketts is the model for the character "Doc."  In addition to inspiring a number of characters for Steinbeck, the biologist provided material for the ecological themes of some of the author's works.