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Exploring the main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck


The main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck is the corrupting influence of wealth. The novella illustrates how the discovery of the pearl brings out greed, envy, and evil in the characters, ultimately leading to tragedy and loss. It highlights the dangers of valuing material wealth over human relationships and moral integrity.

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What is the main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck?

One of the central ideas in Steinbeck's The Pearl is that wealth corrupts.

There is a related thematic undercurrent in the work that suggests that a lust for wealth is unnatural and can lead to a loss of perspective and/or an erosion of morals. Those who serve or pursue wealth in The Pearl are almost universally shown to be inhumane, willing to lie, cheat or kill for material gain.

Kino, the protagonist, is only one example of this ethos at work in the book, but he is also the person most affected by wealth and therefore most exemplary of this theme. Finding the pearl leads Kino to entertain new thoughts about himself, his life and his future.

"The pearl permits new and formerly impossible dreams, causing a dissatisfaction with the status quo of which Steinbeck approves" (eNotes).

At the outset of the narrative, Kino and his family are poor, but happy. After finding the great pearl and thereby becoming rich, Kino's life is ruined. People try to kill him, he is forced to kill, his house is burned down, he becomes changed and his son is killed. The wealth represented by the pearl determines each of these narrative elements.

"Every man suddenly became related to Kino's pearl, and Kino's pearl went into the dreams, the speculations, the schemes, the plans, the futures, the wishes, the needs, the lusts, the hungers, of everyone, and only one person stood in the way and that was Kino, so that he became curiously every man's enemy."

Thus, wealth fails to improve Kino's life and that of his family. Wealth, in fact, ruins his life. Causing him to kill several people, the pearl puts Kino on the defensive even as it creates a new set of potentially positive ambitions in him. The negative effects of new-found wealth clearly outweigh the positive effects both in regards to the events of the story surrounding Kino's family and in regards to Kino's character.

Other figures in the novel further demonstrate the ways that wealth can corrupt a person's character. Those who have the most wealth are also furthest from any sense of humanity or generosity. We see this in the doctor who refuses to treat a dangerously ill infant. 

A desire for wealth can lead to a corruption of morals. When Kino was poor, he was happy and did not want for anything (except better health care). When he was rich, for a time, Kino's life and his character were utterly changed -- and not for the better. 

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What is the main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck?

One major theme of the novel is the idea that evil cannot be defeated by one person alone. Juana and Kino represent the good and the members of the town, including the doctor and the pearl buyers, represent evil. Evil is allowed to thrive in the town because the evil men work together. When Kino faces them, he faces them alone. Because Kino chose to fight evil by himself, he loses. Had he been able to gather support from his village, he might have been able to ward off the men trying to take the pearl away from him. But Kino and his people don't seem to be able to work together to reach a goal. The only time they come together is to watch what happens to Kino. Some of them could have gone with Kino to the capitol, but Kino chooses to go by himself, with just his wife and baby by his side. He ends up losing his son and throwing the pearl away because of his inability to fight evil by himself.

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What is the main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck?

John Steinbeck's novella The Pearl was published in 1947. It tells the story of a poor family, father Kino, mother Juana, and child Coyotito, who try to live with the consequences of Kino's discovery of a great pearl. The pearl should make them rich (at least in terms of the context in which they live), but its value leads to all manners of unexpected problems and one tremendous tragedy.

Students often have trouble determining themes to a work. There is frequently more than one theme to any work as long as a novel, or even a novella. To find a theme, the student should ask themselves: What is the main message that the writer wants to get across? If I could boil this work down to one or two sentences, and still maintain its spirit, what would those sentences be? Make sure that the theme you formulate is not a summary of the story, or an event from the story—it has got to be the writer's central, universal message, and it must be stated in your own words, not the words of the author. 

For a story like The Pearl, I think you have to take the ending into account when determining the theme. As the family tries to escape persecution (because of others' greed for the pearl), their infant son is killed. At that point, they give up their journey and return to their hometown. Strangely, however, they are not broken--they are surprisingly strong.

When they reach the shore, Kino takes out the giant pearl and looks at it:

Evil faces peered from it into his eyes, and he saw the light of burning . . . and the pearl was ugly; it was gray.

These lines signify how Kino has changed. Character change is often a strong clue to theme. Then he flings the pearl into the ocean, where it settles out of sight under the sand on the ocean floor.

So, with this in mind, what is Steinbeck's central message? He has shown us a young family that makes a great discovery that should lead to happiness and prosperity—but it leads only to trouble and the ultimate heartbreak. The pearl, a symbol of beauty throughout the world, has become ugly to him, and he chooses to cast it away.

It should be noted that, throughout the ordeal, the family has been able to stay together and support each other. Several other family members have stood by them without being consumed by the greed that has afflicted so many others in the story.

With all of this in mind, I would say the theme is something along lines of:

The pursuit of happiness or fulfillment cannot be tied to a material object or the search for wealth, because those things are subject to change and corruption—we must seek happiness in our relationships with the important people in our lives.  

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What is the main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck?

One of the main themes of The Pearl is the destructive power of greed. Kino disregards the safety and love of his family to pursue selling the pearl he finds. When the pearl brokers offer him a poor price, Juana, his wife, tries to throw the pearl into the ocean. In response, Kino beats her savagely, and then a series of misfortunes befall him. He kills a man who tries to rob him, and, as a result, he is forced to flee his home with his family. His house then burns down, and the boat in which he tries to flee has a hole in the bottom. When he attempts to flee by land, the men sent to pursue him wind up killing his baby. Left with nothing, he realizes the error of his ways and tosses the pearl back into the ocean. His greed caused his undoing, the unraveling of his family, the death of his baby, the destruction of his home, and the sorrow of his loving wife. 

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What is the main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck?

A major theme of The Pearl is that greed can ruin not only your own life, but the lives of those you love. Kino’s life prior to his finding of the pearl is one of contentment. His needs are few, and he finds joy in his wife and child in their modest brush hut. When he discovers the pearl, however, he immediately begins to want. He does not desire anything outlandish, just a rifle for himself, schooling for his child, clothes for his family, a proper wedding for his wife. It is not the amount that one craves, but the simple act of craving itself that is the undoing. His greed transitions from the things the pearl can buy to the pearl itself. He becomes violent toward his wife, knocking her down and kicking her when she tries to throw the pearl back into the ocean. He kills a man who is trying to steal the pearl from him. He loses his home, journeying toward the city to find someone who will give him more money for the pearl. Yet he never makes it, losing his son in the process. He returns home and rids himself of the pearl. The question remains: Has he lost all chance for happiness because of his past possession of the pearl? Is there any redemption for him?

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What is the main theme in The Pearl by John Steinbeck?

One theme for John Steinbeck's The Pearl, which he terms a parable, is The Evil of Greed, One of the Seven Deadly Sins. 

Steinbeck's parable teaches the reader certain things about Greed:

1.When a man is consumed with greed, he can lose sight of what is truly valuable, and he can, then. forfeit that which is valuable.

In his desire to hold on to the pearl and find a buyer so that he can attain wealth, Kino endangers his family, those for whom he lives. No longer does he hear the song of the Family; instead, it is the song of Evil that plays in his head:

The music had gone out of Kino's head, but now, thinly, slowly, the melody of the morning, the music of evil, of the enemy sounded, but it was faint and weak.

After he refuses to be duped by the pearl buyers, strange men pursue Kino and his family and they lost their former peace and contentment.

2.Greed is a corrupt force that invites evil deeds. 

In Chapter III, for instance, when word of Kino's having found The Pearl of the World spreads,

...all manner of people grew interested in Kino--people with things to sell and people with favors to ask.

In a way Kino now becomes an enemy as he stands in the way of the townspeople and that which they desire, his potential wealth, and what he can give them. He becomes the target of their envy.

3. Greed blinds people as they fail to realize that what is truly valuable cannot be purchased at any price.

As Kino struggles to hold on to the pearl, his wife Juana begs him to throw it away: "This thing is evil...This pearl is like a sin! It will destroy us...." But, Kino perceives it differently, telling her,

"This is our one chance....Our son must go to school. He must break out of the pot that holds us in."

"It will destroy us all," Juana cried. "Even our son."

Her words are prophetic as the baby is shot when a bullet meant for a coyote kills him. The child for whom Kino originally sought the Pearl of the World is gone. As Juana carries their dead baby through the town, she and Kino go to the water's edge and Kino hurls the pearl into the sea as it is now worthless to them without their son.

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What is a key theme in The Pearl and how is it illustrated?

[eNotes editors are only permitted to answer one question per posting. If you have additional questions, please post them separately.]

A theme is an underlying message or "life truth" that the author is trying to pass on to the reader. In John Steinbeck's story, The Pearl, three themes are "good and evil," "knowledge and ignorance" and "individual vs. society."

In this story, good and evil play a dramatic part in the story. There is good in the world that Kino recognizes. There is also evil. The first example of evil is the scorpion that bites Kino's son, Coyotito. There is evil in the Doctor who won't care for their son. The Doctor is one of several people in the story (who are prominent figures in society) that does his best to "keep peasants ignorant and docile." The way the people around Kino and Juana act makes the pearl seem evil—but it is actually the actions of individuals that are evil because of the pearl.

The author may have one or several themes in mind as he writes, and the reader may find other themes because literature speaks personally to each reader. One possible message may be that in the face of evil, we must fight if we don't want to be destroyed by that evil. At the same time, the author may be telling the reader that the battle between good and evil can leave people changed. In this case, they are harder, but also stronger. This is the case for Juana and Kino—Kino has had to kill others to protect his family and what is his. Juana and Kino are both changed when their baby, Coyotito, is killed. Kino and Juana return to town different people. They are at last in agreement about what to do with the pearl—to throw it away, for it has cost them so much. Steinbeck may be pointing out that in the battle between good and evil, good may be victorious, but at a terrible cost.

...they were not walking in single file, Kino ahead and Juana behind, as usual, but side by side.

Things between Kino and Juana have altered. They are now equals—equal in their status having survived the attacks of others wanting the pearl; they have both also suffered the loss of their child—survival seems to be something they are doing with each step—as they carry on.

Kino had a rifle across his arm and Juana carried her shawl like a sack over her shoulder. And in it was a small limp heavy bundle. The shawl was crusted with dried blood...

The strength that has come to them in this battle is apparent on their faces, and in how they carry themselves.

[Juana's] face was hard and lined and leathery with fatigue...And her wide eyes stared inward on herself. She was as remote and as removed as Heaven. Kino's lips were thin and his jaws tight, and the people say that he carried fear with him, that he was as dangerous as a rising storm.

Their neighbors see that they have been transfigured:

The people say that the two seemed to be removed from human experience; that they had gone through pain and had come out on the other side; that there was almost a magical protection about them.

Kino is no longer a victim—he seems to have become a warrior:

In Kino's ears the Song of the Family was as fierce as a cry. He was immune and terrible, and his song had become a battle cry.

United in purpose, broken in some ways but not beaten, Kino and Juana travel to the edge of the Gulf where Kino throws the pearl, "gray, like a malignant growth," and all of the trouble it brought to them, back into the water, once again taking control of their lives.

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What is the main theme of chapter 1 in the novel 'The Pearl'?

An overriding theme for John Steinbeck's parable of The Pearl is that of Good vs. Evil. This theme is connected to the theme of Social Class that begins at the end of Chapter I and develops further in the narrative.

Because Kino's people were once creators of songs, his culture produced many songs. And as a result, events and thoughts began to be frequently interpreted as various songs until these songs became part of the people's tradition. Kino, the main character, hears these traditional songs in his head. As he awakens in the near dawn, Kino glances at his baby and wife. When he hears the splash of the waves on the beach, he closes his eyes again so that he can listen to the songs of his people. The Song of the Family comes to his mind, and to Kino, the rhythm of the family song is the grinding stone that Juana uses. As she works, Juana sings an ancient song softly.

After Kino rises and the streaks of sunlight enter the brush house, Kino and Juana freeze in fear as they see a scorpion moving down the rope that holds their baby's box. In his mind now Kino hears the Song of Evil, the music of any foe of the family. Beneath this song, the Song of the Family "cried plaintively." As they watch the scorpion in fear, Kino can hear "the evil music of the enemy." When the scorpion strikes the baby, Kino beats and smashes this venomous enemy with the Song of the Enemy "roaring in his ears."

Kino starts for a doctor, but those outside tell him that the doctor will not come. Then Kino sees his wife's determined look and hears the music of the family in his head "with a steely tone." After he tells his wife what those outside have said, Juana insists, "Then we will go to him." They set out and pass the area where the peasants live and the city "of stone and plaster" begins as a procession of peasants follow them. They pass four beggars who sit at the front of the church and know everything that transpires in the town. They also know the doctor who is of the ruling class and is from France. When Kino tells the servant, who is also a peasant, why he needs a doctor, the servant instructs him to wait. After this servant informs the doctor that an Indian's baby has been stung by a scorpion, the doctor becomes angry, expressing his disdain for the Indian: "I am not a veterinarian." Then he instructs his servant to find out if the man has any money. When the servant returns with "eight misshapen seed pearls," the gatekeeper is instructed to tell Kino that the doctor has departed. He closes the gate quickly in shame for his falsehood, and Kino, too, feels shamed. Out of courtesy to Kino, the neighbors leave, as well.

This class distinction is something that sows the seed of the Song of Evil that prevails throughout the narrative. Unfortunately, Kino does not hear this song when he is sent away by the doctor's servant, nor does he recognize the potential for evil involved with his discovery of the huge pearl as does Juana.

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