How does Steinbeck use imagery to create the tone in The Pearl and could it have ended differently?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator's tone is a distant calm and nostalgic one but with a foreboding overtone, and the imagery Steinbeck chooses is integral to creating the tone. So as not to confuse tone with mood, let's clarify that both tone (narrator's feelings about the subject) and mood (reader's response of feeling to the story) both employ vocabulary, also called diction. These diction choices include the vocabulary of imagery. The distinction is that while tone employs only vocabulary (diction), mood employs vocabulary (diction), setting and description. This means that tone and mood may both draw on imagery and in some cases may correspond, whereas in other cases they may differ so that the narrator may have a different feeling about the subject than the reader feels in responding to the story.

To start out, the feeling of distance in the tone is established in the epigraph in which the imagery of metaphoric rootedness is applied to mind and heart and in which the dichotomy of good-bad, black-white is established. Remembering that tone is established at the outset of a work, the epigraph and first paragraphs present visual, auditory and vocal imagery. The calm tone is most strongly set out in the auditory imagery of the roosters crowing, the pigs turning twigs and the birds "chittering and flurried."

The vocal imagery lends the feeling of nostalgia, as of a pleasant distant memory, through the mentions of music and songs. The morning waves make songs; Kino's people are "makers of songs;" everything heard, seen, thought, done became a song for his people. It is also in the imagery of song making that the element of foreboding enters the narrator's tone: The songs were made "very long ago" but are not made now. Only personal songs are made, but Kino can't speak of his, whereas, in the past, songs were shared among the whole people.

The other component of imagery that adds to the feeling (tone) of foreboding is the visual imagery at the very beginning of Chapter 1. The visualizations are of "near dark," stars that "still shone," the dawn a "pale wash of light in the lower sky to the east." These half shades of light and dark (antithetical to what the epigraph says of the story) produce foreboding because of the eeriness that accompanies nearly dark moments or nearly light moments in the world. This concludes the summary of how imagery in The Pearl creates the narrator's feelings, or tone, about the story being told.

mandersn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do wish that the story ended differently. It might have empowered far more people to dream and to reach for better things in life. I cannot say that it is greed that motivated kino. For so long Kino's race had been oppressed and he was driven, in part, by a desire to change the fate of his Mexican Indian people. In the pearl, he saw hope, not just for himself and his son, but for his people. Bear in mind that Kino hoped that the pearl would provide an opportunity for his son to get an education, then the son would pass on that education to the race of down-trodden Mexican Indians. Kino felt that if they could read books, it would provide the opportunity for them to liberate themselves instead of being victims of the ignorance that men like the doctor and the pearl buyers, used to trick Kino. I am saddened by the ending because it teaches a Fatalistic approach to life, it teaches that the down-trodden should accept their position without complaint and without the ambition enough to change history. Indeed, where would we be as a people if we were to truly embrace that philosophy? I praise Kino for daring to dream and for fighting to hold on to that dream. I do agree, however, that he could have realized earlier that the pearl brought evil instead of good. When he and Juana return to the village with their dead son, the height of the tragedy lies in the resignation that life consists of the Powerful and of the victims who must accept their station as preys.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ending also illustrates how there is no magical and quick way to move from one's socio-economic situation.  For instance, had Kino not been an uneducated and ingenuous man, he would better have understood that he could not get what the pearl was truly worth; instead, he would have to bargain.  If he had some worldliness about him, Kino would have been able to bargain with the dealers and receivenough money to take him and his family from the conditions in which they live.  It is Kino's ignorance of the world initially which really damages his chances of selling the pearl.  Of course, the dealers assume that he is ignorant, and when he does not take their first price, they do worry that they have underestimated him.  It is at this point that Kino could have succeeded if he had possessed some modicum of business acumen or sales experience.  Instead, he leaves.  Fearing that he will take the pearl out of their jurisdiction,  the men then plot to steal the pearl, and Kino and his family's fate is sealed.

The pearl, then, becomes an evil talisman as it is responsible for his baby's death.  In addition, Kino will continue to be a hunted animal.  And, if Kino could sell it, the money would be "blood money" for Coyitito.  So, in the minds of Kino and Juana, the pearl is evil and their lives will be haunted by it if they do not rid themselves of it.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, the story could have ended in many ways.  However, to change the ending would have changed the theme that Steinbeck is trying to express.  Steinbeck is telling readers that the eagerness for a "better life" and the focus on material wealth only brings unhappiness.  If Kino and Juanita had gone on to the capital and sold the Pearl, getting rich off of it and moving on, than Steinbeck's message would have been lost.  The main characters would not have learned from their misfortune on the path to prosperity.

Another way it chould be different would have been for Kino to have been killed by the rifle, and not his son.  However, Kino was the one swept away by the greed for the pearl.  Juanita had already been trying to convince him to get rid of it.  His death would have been a consequence of his greed, but he would not have had time to learn his lesson.  This weakens Steinbeck's argument.

For Kino to lose his son, what he was fighting for in the first place, and to willingly choose to throw back the Pearl is the best way for Steinbeck to drive home his theme.  The readers and Kino clearly understand the consequences of the greed, and the readers learn from Kino's decision to get rid of the pearl.  Throwing it back is the only way to get rid of its negative influence.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the ending fits in very well with the kind of bleak world which Steinbeck creates. In the dog-eat-dog world he introduces us to, where the sudden wealth of one person results in the attempts of others to get that wealth, such a finding is more of a curse than a blessing, which obviously is the overwhelming message of the book. Wealth is not always a good thing.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like the ending, but I admit I would have liked to see more.  Kino took revenge in the only way he could, but there are many other ways he might have done it.  I also agree with the above post, and I admit I never really thought about what would happen to Kino after he threw away the pearl.  Most people would still think he had it and never believe he threw it out.

mkcapen1 | Student

The tone of the narrator in the book "The Pearl" is hurried and concerning.  It creates a feeling that the sale of the pearl must be made quickly but at the same time it also divulges the evil of greed.

In the beginning the reader is given a false sense of joy and harmony which is short lived.  A scorpion stings the baby and the two Indian parents are denied any treatment to help their infant.  The father wants badly to find a way to afford treatment for his sun.

The pearl that he finds is greater than any around and should bring fortune, but there is a sense of evil attached to it.  The pearl brings bad luck to the family by seducing others evil hearts into having to have it for its value.  In the end the family has been destroyed by the pearl.

thereader352 | Student

he was really poor and needed the the money regardless if it caused him problems.