Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

The long term critical reputation of John Steinbeck rises and falls on the relevance and apparent ability evinced in his greatest two novels, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. However, his endurance as a great American writer is also found in his lesser works such as The Red Pony and The Pearl. The latter, Steinbeck called "a black and white story like a parable," and the felicity with which he crafted the work claims its readers to read it again and again. Indeed, for many critics this story has revealed the bedrock of Steinbeck's personal and political philosophy.

John F. Kennedy was one such early friend who summed up Steinbeck's literary philosophy as a "reverence for life." That was the reason for his popularity, said Kennedy; Steinbeck wrote of "life and living." This critic was not about to simply say Steinbeck was a naturalist or social realist and, thereby, repeat again that he was a champion of the working man. In fact, Kennedy refutes these claims. Steinbeck was too sentimental in his regard of humanity to be a realist. Thematically, Kennedy rather likes Steinbeck's work until he comes to The Pearl.

Harris Morris provides a close reading of Steinbeck's use of allegory and symbolism and chronicles the publication history of the fable. The title, for example, went from being "The Pearl of the World" to "The Pearl of La Paz." The overstatement of irony involved in a title "The Pearl of Peace" was unnecessary and finally the title shortens to its present form. Morris makes a great deal of Steinbeck's role as a modern fabulist who wrapped his tales...

(The entire section is 705 words.)