Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Pearl grew out of an anecdote Steinbeck had heard during his visit to La Paz, which he recorded in the log section of Sea of Cortez (1941, 1951). An Indian boy discovered an exceedingly large pearl and saw in it a future of drink, many girlfriends, and, ultimately, personal salvation. He refused to sell the pearl for the ridiculously low price he was offered, and after he had been beaten and searched for two nights running, he angrily threw the pearl back into the gulf. Afterward, “he laughed a great deal about it.” Steinbeck mused: “This seems to be a true story, but it is so much like a parable that it almost can’t be. The Indian boy is too heroic, too wise.” In developing The Pearl, Steinbeck tried to avoid the incongruities he had sensed in the original tale. He moved the story into a sort of timeless past and changed the happy-go-lucky boy into a responsible father and husband. In the process, the tone became tragic instead of comic.

From the beginning, Steinbeck had seen The Pearl as a basis for a film by the Mexican director Emilio Fernandez. Throughout the story run musical leitmotifs (which were actually used in the film), particularly three: the Song of the Family, which Kino hears each time he looks at his wife and especially his son; the Song of Evil, “the music of the enemy,” which sounds every time they are threatened; and the music of the pearl itself. The story’s visual sense is strong. The town, the gulf, and the sierra are described in sharp colors and high relief. Such scenes as Kino’s dive into the sea, the flight into the mountains, and the daily life of the people demand cinematographic treatment.

Steinbeck’s writing is deceptively simple, avoiding complexities of emotion and characterization. Only Steinbeck’s occasional philosophical meditations and ironic asides could not be easily filmed. Shot on location by cameraman Gabriel Figuero with an all-Mexican cast, La Perla was premiered in 1946. To coincide with the film’s release, the story was reprinted in book form under its present title and with illustrations by the great Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco, one of only three books he so honored.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

America after World War II
The Peace Treaty signed on February 10,1947 officially ends World War II. America emerges...

(The entire section is 750 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Pearl is set in and around La Paz, Mexico, a coastal town marked by economic, social, and racial divisions resulting from colonial...

(The entire section is 70 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Mexican coastal town Published by Gale Cengage

An allegory takes many forms. One form of allegory is that of a type of fiction more or less symbolic in...

(The entire section is 872 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Kino's story is an allegory: his journey affords him a small amount of personal growth and a variety of lessons on which to reflect. An...

(The entire section is 882 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Written in the mid-1940's, The Pearl addresses numerous social issues that gained prominence at that time and that remained among the...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1947: Jackie Robinson becomes the first black American to play baseball in the major leagues when he joins the Brooklyn...

(The entire section is 174 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Consider the following quote from The Pearl: "An accident could happen to these oysters, a grain of sand could lie in the folds of...

(The entire section is 238 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Examine The Pearl and The Red Pony as parables. How does Steinbeck use this literary technique to develop both novels? How...

(The entire section is 55 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Consider the following quote from The Pearl: "An accident could happen to these oysters, a grain of sand could lie in the folds of...

(The entire section is 238 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Another compelling fable by a famous author is Animal Farm. Published in 1945 by

(The entire section is 262 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Baker, Carlos. "Steinbeck at the Top of His Form." New York Times Book Review (November 30, 1947): 4, 52. In this favorable review,...

(The entire section is 738 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

John S. Kennedy, "John Steinbeck: Life Affirmed and Dissolved," in Steinbeck and His Critics: A Record of...

(The entire section is 889 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Astro, Richard. John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts: The Shaping of a Novelist. Hemet, Calif.: Western Flyer, 2002.

Benson, Jackson D. The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer. New York: Viking Press, 1984.

French, Warren. John Steinbeck’s Fiction Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994.

George, Stephen K., ed. John Steinbeck: A Centennial Tribute. New York: Praeger, 2002.

George, Stephen K., ed. The Moral Philosophy of John Steinbeck. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Hayashi, Tetsumaro, ed. A New Study Guide to Steinbeck’s Major Works, with Critical Explications. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Hughes, R. S. John Steinbeck: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1989.

Johnson, Claudia Durst, ed. Understanding “Of Mice and Men,” “The Red Pony,” and “The Pearl”: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

McElrath, Joseph R., Jr., Jesse S. Crisler, and Susan Shillinglaw, eds. John Steinbeck: The Contemporary Reviews. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Parini, Jay. John Steinbeck: A Biography. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

Shillinglaw, Susan, and Kevin Hearle, eds. Beyond Boundaries: Rereading John Steinbeck. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

Tamm, Eric Enno. Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2004.

Timmerman, John H. The Dramatic Landscape of Steinbeck’s Short Stories. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.