The Book of Revelation and the “Pearl” Poem Essay
It is important to note that the literature of the Middle Ages was largely influenced by Christian beliefs. Poets often resorted to biblical stories and symbols. They often tried to glorify major Christian values providing various parallels.
Thus, the poem Pearl can be regarded as a kind of didactic narrative based on the Book of Revelation. It is possible to trace several parallels between the poem and the Book of Revelation: numerical symbolism, the idea of people’s resignation and the idea of revelation.
Due to these three parallels, the poem can be regarded as a medieval symbolic periphrasis of the Book of Revelation.
In the first place, it is necessary to note that the poem is triadic in form (Lambdin and Lambdin 96). Thus, there are three settings: factual garden where the knight is looking for his pearl, the garden in his dream where he speaks with the Lady and the view of the New Jerusalem.
Thus, Lambdin and Lambdin state that the garden where the knight is talking with the Lady is a setting-within-a-setting, and that the New Jerusalem serves as a setting-within-a-setting-within-a-setting because the dreamer views it from a position within the first dream landscape. (96)
Admittedly, the number three has a great significance in the Christian culture. This number stands for the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the use of the number in the poem of the Middle Ages is not surprising as many poets of that time resorted to this number.
One of the best examples of this tradition is the number of trials the main characters, knights, had to complete. There always were three victories to be achieved.
Nonetheless, the poem under consideration is rather unique as the author exploits the number in such a specific way. Thus, the author creates three dimensions where the protagonist has to find himself to reach the truth.
These three dimensions can also be associated with the Trinity as they represent the humanness, spirituality and the divine truth. The protagonist has to spend some time in the three dimensions to find his pearl which stands for the divine truth: “Where dwells that dearest, as I ween, / My precious pearl without a spot” (Tolkien 125). It is but natural that he perceives the truth at the end of his journey throughout the three dimensions.
Apart from the numerical symbolism, it is possible to trace the influence of the Book of Revelation in terms of the idea of human’s resignation. In fact, this idea is central to Christianity as major postulates of Christianity are concerned with people’s resignation.
It is acknowledged that people should clearly understand what their place in this world is. Pearl also touches upon the idea of resignation. Thus, the author dwells upon the “beauty of purity and perfection” (Andrew and Waldron 30).
The author provides a long dialogue between the man and the mysterious Lady. The Lady speaks of resignation and the glory of God.
Thus, the author provides a rhetoric question: “What greater glory could to him belong / Than king to be crowned be courtesy?” (Tolkien 141). Admittedly, courtesy and purity are regarded as some of the most important characteristic features of rightful people.
The Lady makes the knight understand one of the major postulates of Christianity: “To their body doth loyalty true unite, So as limbs to their Master mystical / All Christian souls belong by right (Tolkien 140).
Thus, the author emphasizes the necessity to accept the simple truth that people are nothing more than creations of God. Andrew and Waldron point out that the poem reveals the transformation of a mere human into a rightful man who possesses the greatest pearl, i.e. the truth (30).
Admittedly, the idea of resignation is also central to the Book of Revelation which predicts the future of humanity. Thus, in the Book of Revelation only rightful people, who accept their status, can be saved.
Only those who resign to God can be saved. It is also important to note that it is only when the dreamer acknowledges and accepts his status, he is permitted to see the New Jerusalem:
…As John the apostle it did view,
I saw that city of great renown,
Jerusalem royally arrayed and new (Tolkien 159).
In fact, this is an allegorical representation of the revelation. The medieval author reveals the way people can achieve revelation: it is necessary to understand what humans really are.
When it comes to the idea of revelation, the parallels are almost overt. In the first place, the author of the Pearl portrays the New Jerusalem which was promised to rightful people after the apocalypse. Many scholars have argued that the depiction of the city in Pearl is somewhat unusual (Andrew and Waldron 31).
Admittedly, it differs from the Biblical descriptions as wells as later depictions of the New Jerusalem. It is somewhat brighter. It is important to note that the poem was created at the time when the catastrophic aftermaths of the Black Plague were still in people’s memory.
Perhaps, this fact influenced the author’s perception of the biblical motives. In fact, this point is really meaningful as it justifies the argument that Pearl is medieval interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
Interestingly, the author contemplates the major Christian values accepting every instance. Thus, the author preaches that people should resign to God’s will and work hard to be able to tread the land of the New Jerusalem.
The author also contemplates sins that can prevent many people from achieving their revelation. The author also alludes to the pictures of apocalypse revealed in the Book of Revelation. However, at the same time, it is clear that people’s perception of the Christian beliefs changed.
Thus, the Pearl is not concerned with punishment which was one of the central motives in the Middle Ages. The author focuses on the beauty of Christianity and the glory of God. The author glorifies God’s kindness.
Remarkably, this makes the poem that important as it is one of the literary works that reveal transformation in religious beliefs in Europe in the Middle Ages.
On balance, it is possible to point out that Pearl can be regarded as a medieval interpretation of the Book of Revelation. In the first place, the book touches upon the major themes revealed in the Book of Revelation.
Thus, Pearl is mainly concerned with the idea of resignation and revelation. More so, the parallels between the two works can be traced on the level of numerical symbols as the two works exploit such symbols extensively.
In Pearl the number three plays an important role. However, the most important peculiarity of the poem is that it reveals the transformation of some central Christian values.
Thus, the author tells the story revealed in the Book of Revelation, but focuses on the beauty of Christianity and God’s glory, rather than on the idea of punishment which was common for the Dark Ages.
Andrew, Malcolm, and R. Waldron. The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript, Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 1982. Print.
Lambdin, Laura.C., and R.T. Lambdin. Arthurian Writers: A Bibliographical Encyclopedia, Westport, CT: ABC-CLIO, 2008. Print.
Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Pearl; [and] Sir Orfeo, New York, NY: Del Rey, 1979. Print.
Societal Issues in “The Pearl”
Introduction/background of Steinbeck and the Pearl
Literature is called a mirror to society. The writer cannot escape himself from societal issues and influence. He has to accept the impact in one-way or the other. John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” is also no exception. His characters, plot, action, style and themes all reveal some societal perspectives in explicit or implicit language.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck seems like a very simple book as a parable on the societal issues. The story is about a poor man whose new found riches take over his life.
It’s a story we’ve all heard before, but as you dig deeper into the meaning of the book one finds much more than just a simple story. Discoveries such as how man relates with nature, the different social statuses, and the wholeness of people can be found in this simple story.
Kino is a poor Indian man with a small family, a wife and an infant son.
He is an honest, venerable pearl diver who works hard to maintain his family’s livings. Kino is aware of his poverty and knows that money could possibly buy a better life for his family, especially his son. When he finally gains riches he realizes that people can kill to protect their chance for wealth and power. He also has a better grasp on the social standing of the Indians compared to the white men. He senses danger once everyone has found out about his riches, but his guard is always up. Now that his life has monetary value, Kino has lost all social innocence. He learns that he, too, can kill to protect the chance for wealth and power.
Kino is the symbol of a hard-working man destroyed by greed. Kino not only destroys his life, but he destroys his wife’s and son’s life as well. Juana, his wife, is a very devoted wife. She also has very maternal and logical instincts. When the doctor would not treat their son, Kino responds by punching a gate; Juana puts seaweed poultice on the baby’s shoulder.
When Juana felt that the pearl was destroying their life she tried to throw it into the see. Juana represents the simple way of life. Unlike Kino, Juana does not believe in pursuing the unattainable. Though their son Coyotito does not seem to play an important part, he really does represent a big issue. Coyotito is the innocent victim of powers greater than himself. He represents the person (or thing) that is forced to stand back and cannot defend him at all in life.
The Pearl as a Parable
The Pearl is basically a Mexican folklore. Although, The Pearl is purely more than a clear-cut story of a man who finds a pearl, yet it has many connotative, allegorical and suggestive touches from parable perspective. In its own, The Pearl is a dominant parable of jealously, oppression, inner struggle, bravery and greed and so much more. It may be termed as a multiple metaphor also going beyond the realm of parable rather. From fabrication of plot perspective, Steinbeck vigilantly weaves into his folk tale his own innovative and individual style using glowing descriptions and strong figurative language.
How does The Pearl address the role of society?
There are many prominent themes in this book, but the one I really like and agree with is not so prominent. In The Pearl Steinbeck shows the role of the society being as one. Everything has its place in the universe, and when something happens to one of the parts, the whole system is affected. No event happens to an individual in isolation. The first incident in which you see this take affect is when Kino is heading to the doctor’s house. The villagers swarm around him as they head into the rich part of town. ‘The thing had become a neighborhood affair.’ (Page 8) Everyone was concerned. When Kino found the pearl everyone knew about it by the time his boat reached the shore. How people are affected as a whole is not always in a negative sense.
These two examples demonstrate that, but unfortunately these are the only two examples. There is much more pain and suffering form here on. None of the Indians have ever been rich, so when Kino finds the pearl many of the other Indians feel resentment toward him. This is not obvious to Kino because he is blinded by greed, but his brother Juan Thomas sees it and warns Kino.
Juan Thomas is much help to Kino. Because of Kino’s mistakes in the book Juan has to rearrange his traditional Indian lifestyle to compensate for his brother. His life is temporarily changed because of one person, his brother. After trying to sell the pearl to the people in his town, Kino becomes enraged. There are a number of dreadful events that happen between the time he sells his pearl and the time he leaves town that Kino does not act rationally upon. This affects everyone. It affects the ones he deals directly with physically, but the others in town are affected emotional.
How does The Pearl address the role of equality?
The characters in The Pearl represent exploitations and insist social justice and equality in an implicit manner. One reason Kino feels he must sell the pearl is because the return money from pearl will raise his social class. Kino lives with his family in a poor person’s village made of brush houses. He, his family, and village are at the bottom of the social structure in La Paz. When Kino and Juana’s baby, Coyotito, is stung by a deadly scorpion the family has to walk all the way to the doctor (when dealing with white people the doctor goes to the people instead of the people going to the doctor) with the with the sick baby to find out he will not care for Coyotito. The doctor tells his servant that he’s not a vet implying that Kino and his family are animals.
Then the servant lies to Kino and Juana telling them that the doctor is on a call. After that, Kino tries to sell his pearl to three different dealers that all lie to him, telling him that his pearl is valueless and is worth no more than 1500 pesos, when the pearl is really worth about 50,000 pesos. Ultimately those dealers try to cheat Kino into selling the pearl for 33 times less than it is really worth! Three different occasions in The Pearl people try to kill Kino for his pearl during the night. They never succeed but his boat and house are destroyed in the process. The main reason Kino does not want to be oppressed is so he won’t be cheated and disrespected anymore than he already is
How was Steinbeck as an advocate for social reform?
Despite Juana’s legitimate concerns Kino feels he must sell the pearl for a fair price, why? Because the return money from the pearl will raise his social class and give Kino and his family a chance in life. That chance will also tell the arrogant whites that they aren’t the only ones who can be successful.
The reason whites don’t want other races to be higher in social class is because they feel their success and class is being threatened. So they discriminate, disrespect, and abuse other races that threaten that class. Whites especially should learn to give other races a chance and hopefully they will learn that they are not the only ones that are or can be successful. If whites in The Pearl had learned this Kino wouldn’t have had to go through all his dangerous, scary and unfair trouble and in the process lose one of his only loves, Coyotito, his baby boy.
The second reason Kino feels he needs to sell the pearl is because the return money will give he and his family a chance in life. As mentioned before Kino and his family live in a poor village. Natives of this village (La Paz) make an extremely small amount of money by finding pearls and selling them to dealers. Most villagers are uneducated, have ragged clothes, an old harpoon, an ancient boat and brush house and of course a family.
Steinbeck John: The Pearl; Penguin (Non-Classics); 1 edition (April 6, 2000)
An Analysis of The Pearl by John Steinbeck
One of the primary styles of the novel, The Pearl, which was written by John Steinbeck, is the damaging force of greed. The author provided this concept in a range of methods in the story such as the usage parallelism of the imagery to the characters in the unique, the setting of the story that justifies the characters’ actions, and the abrupt improvement of the characters.
Essentially, the story takes location in depressed Mexican-Indian neighborhood in La Paz where the book’s two main characters, Kino, a poor pearl diver, and his partner, Juana, live in.
While the story revolves primarily around the life of the couple, especially, Keno, the author utilized them to symbolize the impoverished state of the community in which they live in. The story begins with Coyotito being stung by a harmful scorpion. When Kino and Juana were not able to treat their kid, who was revealed to be in severe discomfort, they took him to a doctor.
However, the doctor, upon discovering that the couple did not have any money, turns them away and pretended to be not available at the minute.
In this part of the story, Steinbeck currently demonstrated how greed played an important function in negatively affecting the lives of Kino and Juana through for a little while moving the focus of characterization. The doctor, who is bound by an oath that compels him to assist all those who are sick, no matter their financial status, declined to treat the couple’s child because he was greedy and did not want to treat them unless he gets paid with cash. The physician likewise signified the obstacles and injustice that Kino faces in their impoverished neighborhood, which was, in a manner, used to justify his greedy actions later on in the book.
Furthermore, using nature’s imagery in the very first chapter of the unique typically mirrored Kino’s character. In the opening chapter 1, Kino deeply observes the beauty of the garden of his house, which shows the innocence he just had at the beginning of the book.
After the couple was turned down by the doctor, Kino became desperate but fortunately found a very large and rare pearl in one of his dives. The author used this part of the story as a turning point in Kino’s personality. This part of the story also depicted the greed of the other minor characters of the novel such as the priest of La Paz, who agreed to help Kino only after he discovered that he had the pearl, and the doctor, who changed his mind and helped Kino only after he found out that the fisherman was in possession of a rare pearl.
Moreover, although Kino’s intentions were primarily to buy a cure for his son by selling the pearl, he was blinded by his greed as shown in his desire to sell the pearl only to the highest bidder. Days after he found the pearl, his entire family experienced a lot of misfortunes. Several men attempted to steal the pearl from him and although they were unsuccessful, this led to Kino committing acts he normally did not do such as violence and murder. In addition, Kino’s attitude towards his family suddenly changed which was illustrated when he beat up his wife Juana after she insisted that they get rid of the pearl for fear of the misfortune it will bring them in the future.
Even after their house was burned down, Kino still insisted on keeping the pearl and escaped to a nearby the mountain with his family since they believed he will be hunted by the authorities after he killed one of the men of attempted to steal his prized possession. They then discover that they were being pursued by three men and when Kino tried to surprise them, they kill his son, Coyotito. He responded by killing all of them and the next day the story ended with Kino returning to La Paz where he throws the pearl to the sea for good.
The events at the mountain were another form of nature imagery used by the author. This time, Steinbeck used the mountain to reflect life’s darker side which is characterized struggles and hardships. In this case, however, it was still Kino’s greed that led to these events. Overall, Steinbeck clearly expresses that man’s desire for excessive property and riches would eventually lead to destruction as portrayed by Kino who lost his son, his house, and his innocence in his greedy desire to sell the pearl and amass wealth.
Steinbeck, J. (2002). The Pearl (Centennial Edition). New York: Penguin
The Pearl: Symbolism Analysis
God, Glory, and Gold. These are the three G’s of European colonization, and the same three G’s that would lead to the destruction of entire civilizations of native people and their forced submission to European ethnic and socioeconomic forces for hundreds of years. Amongst these forces was the power of Spain and this nation’s role in the destruction and hegemony over Native Mexicans; the drive for colonial dominance resulted in the downfall and dehumanization of millions. This is the story of western civilization and indeed the story depicted in John Steinbeck’s novella The Pearl, with the narrative of Kino and his people set against the oppressive members of his community. But beyond illustrating this story literally, Steinbeck uses different literary elements to convey the complex yet destructive tolls of ethnocentric oppression. Thus, in the novella The Pearl, Steinbeck uses elements such as imagery and symbolism to demonstrate ethnocentric constructs that work against Native Mexicans.
At the core of the toll of ethnocentric constructs and the oppression of Kino’s native people is the way in which Steinbeck uses imagery to convey the submission and general attitude of Kino’s people concerning the dominating Spaniards. In chapter three, following the doctor’s malicious encounter with Coyotito as a “patient” after Kino finds the pearl, a scene is described where, “in the estuary a tight-woven school of small fishes glittered and broke water to escape a school of great fishes that drove in to eat them.” The scene then further describes how the smaller fishes made “swishes” as they escaped the more prominent “splash” of the large fish with an apparent aura of distant chaos to the people in their brush houses. Although the sound may be distant, it is indeed still apparent amongst the villagers as the “slaughter” wages on in the estuary. With this, Steinbeck uses elements of sound and sight, with the fishes’ size and their sounds of greater or less prominence, to illustrate a common and core theme in the story. The big fish are the hunters, the oppressors, and with their deliberate might easily overpower the small fish with seemingly natural discourse. This is the parallel and predicament that Kino’s own people too face. There are hunted, overpowered, and weak just as the little fish are, and just as the bigger fish cause ripples and bring on sounds and sights of distant, seemingly irrelevant chaos, they are the same sounds of hunt, predator and prey that Kino also faces. This point is only further exemplified by another example on the same page, where, “The dampness arose out of the Gulf and was deposited on bushes and cacti and on little trees in salty drops. And the night mice crept about on the ground and the little night hawks hunted them silently.” (Steinbeck 33) This, too, illustrates the core way in which Steinbeck uses imagery to highlight the oppression of Kino’s people. Even as night seems to peacefully and even beautifully fall over the village, little mice hide for their lives in the hunt. Despite the situations at hand, the immediate peace of what is seen in Kino’s village, there is a dark predator. There is prey, and this prey is much more than small and big fish and weak mice and valiant hawks. The prey is also Kino’s people.
The oppressive forces that contend with Kino’s people, however, are much more than the predators of a seemingly silent nature. They are the very people that degrade Kino whilst hunting and deceiving him over his pearl. Chiefly amongst the forces of oppression against Kino’s people is the doctor, carrying the general consensus of being a selfish and generally distasteful man. Kino, seemingly from the start, is in conflict with the doctor. Even after Coyotito is bit by a scorpion and requires medical attention from the man, he remarks, “Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for ‘little Indians’? I am a doctor, not a veterinary” (Steinbeck 11). This quote all in itself shows the attitude towards natives this man possesses. He not only is self-centered, he respects no value towards the lives and health of natives, almost as if he does not even see them as human beings. However, this dismissal of any reasonable importance of Kino and his people only exists when Kino is without wealth, and without his pearl. As the news of Kino’s grand finding spreads throughout the city, not only do many more become interested in Kino, but many (such as the doctor) begin to see how they can personally profit. In fact, immediately following the news reaching the doctor, he stated that Kino “is a client of mine”, and “looked past his aged patient and saw himself sitting in a restaurant in Paris and a waiter was just opening a bottle of wine” (Steinbeck 22). This quote itself demonstrates the doctor’s now greedy, revamped opinion on Kino and his family. Whereas in the beginning they were poor and seemingly worthless, with a new surge of imminent wealth they are patients and indeed the doctor is interested, not because he genuinely cares about their health or even lives, but sees what he sees past his aged patient – a life of his own luxury and profit from a stranger’s personal luck. It, however, is vital to understand that the doctor is indeed not a miraculous instance of hate and greed towards the natives, but rather stands as a mighty force that only dictates and represents the hateful and greedy notions against Kino’s people. He represents the humiliation, degradation, and subhuman idealisms present amongst the community’s elite. He demonstrates not only a core strain of selfishness and appropriation, but of the ethnocentric and economic structures put against the natives in hopes to suppress and ultimately alienate them. However, the doctor also stands as a prevalent inverse against these constructs in times of Kino’s oncoming wealth. He represents deceit, exploitation, and appropriation. He is willing to reform his ideologies, at least halfheartedly, in order to profit from Kino and even go to extreme, life-threatening means to get what he wants. He first sees Kino’s people as animals, not worthy of even basic medical care, to exploitable resources with Kino’s pearl as means to justify and fund his own luxury. He is not just a lazy, selfish doctor. He is the structure and society itself, all in pursuit to antagonize Kino and his people.
All in all, however, the ultimate form of both oppression and historical constructs against both Kino and his people lies beyond the stark naturalist parallels of a distant yet close scene of predator and prey, and even beyond the greedy and symbolic role of the community doctor. The ultimate facilitator of both oppressive imagery and ethnocentric symbolism is in Kino’s very pearl itself. Predominately with imagery concerning the pearl is the stark contrast in how Kino saw the pearl in the beginning versus its representation in the end. First among discovering the pearl in chapter three, Kino remarks on how, “the music of the pearl had merged with the music of the family so that one beautified the other” (Steinbeck 24). This first poses the way in which Kino saw the pearl, and what he had hoped for in its image. He saw hope, a future, and with the Song of the Family, the very song of goodness in the world, he too heard the Song of the Pearl, showing its strive for future hope and goodness. These sounds that represent imagery and indeed visions of hope highlight the positive power of the pearl. But, this message of hope is not only challenged with the community elite’s selfish strive to possess Kino’s pearl, but indeed with what the pearl begins to represent at the end of the story. As described in chapter 5, after Kino’s deadly encounter with the trackers that results in the death of Coyotito, the pearl is now, “gray and ulcerous” and now “Kino heard the music of the pearl, distorted and insane.” (Steinbeck 89) This shifts the dynamic of hope in the pearl to its now ugly and horrible representations of death and despair. It is not only Coyotito’s life that is robbed from the devolution of the pearl, but the entirety of the goodness of Kino’s people. They are robbed of their chance. Furthermore, the role of imagery in the devolution of Kino’s pearl is only exemplified by analyzing how the pearl’s very symbolism and role in the story demonstrates the cycle of oppression Kino’s people face. With each instance of prosperity or luck, Kino is faced with immediate conflicts. Whether they be external, such as with a brawl, or internal, such as with the moral dilemma of keeping the pearl, all these conflicts serve under a central umbrella of the submissive and conquerable role of Kino’s people. Just as the pearl devolves into despair with the passage of time, it too represents the oppression of Kino’s people. Kino is robbed, deceived, and dehumanized because of his pearl, but his pearl is only the lingering reminder that Kino is a subject of the abusive and uncontrollable ethnocentric construct against his people, with its countless attempts at thievery and its aura of deceit. The pearl, in this way, is the key. The key to a better future and a better life, which only becomes the threat of the elite and the prevalence of oppression.
God, Glory, and Gold. The motivations for colonial growth, but alongside growth the consistent reality of structured oppression through abusive ethnocentric constructs. Kino’s people are a victim of this “growth”, and indeed they are a grand symbol of the reality of oppression. They, with imagery see themselves as prey against predator. They, with symbolism see themselves at the hands of the elite, dehumanized then exploited. They, even with Kino’s pearl, face imminent despair, destruction, and ultimately an endless cycle of oppression. But beyond all of these things, Kino’s people symbolize the horrible strains of human nature. They are the gears by which ethnocentrism, racism, and exploitation run unceasingly. But they, too are victims of the pearl – an item of deceitful value and indeed of deceitful nature.
The Pearl versus The Secret River
The Pearl, by John Steinbeck and The Secret River, by Kate Grenville both explore issues surrounding racism and classism. However, whilst The Pearl places a heavy emphasis on classism due to racism, The Secret River discusses racism and the preconceived ideas that those who live in a hierarchical society experience. Resistant readings, common to all texts, manifest themselves as feminism in both The Pearl and The Secret River – although more so in the former. Readings such as Marxist and pro-colonialism are also considered as resistant in The Secret River. In both texts, the indigenous populations are represented as appreciating the important things in life; such as family, love and respecting nature. Interestingly, the white population of both books is presented as corrupt and disrespectful due to their monetary system. The Pearl and The Secret River share many similarities, especially in regard to their respective issues. However, whilst their resistant readings differ, their message stays the same; everyone is equal – despite everything.
Both The Pearl and The Secret River explore a myriad of issues surrounding racism, classism and the ingrained, accepted ideas surrounding these attitudes. The former text places a heavy emphasis on racism and its effect on classism. Steinbeck implies that it is almost purely racism that drives classism and the divide this creates in society. The Pearl reflects his value on equality and the idea that classism would have no foundation if racism did not exist. His use of Kino to represent the poor, oppressed, Mexican population enables Steinbeck to present his belief that racism creates classism. He portrays the Mexican population as simple, spiritual and content with what life has given them. Although they find the divide between societies difficult, they do not harbour bitterness and instead use their energy to protect and support their own society. Steinbeck constructs the Caucasians to appear greedy, cunning, manipulative and ignorant of life’s simpler joys. This is evident in the contrast between Kino’s morning; “he squatted beside the hearth and rolled a hot corncake in his hands… the sun warmed the little brush house, breaking through the crevices in long streaks…” and the doctor’s morning; “his eyes sat in puffy hammocks as his mouth dropped in discontent… he brushed the crumbs from a sweet cake from his fingers.” Grenville has a similar attitude to money as Steinbeck does. She presents her assumption that money corrodes the soul in her text The Secret River, by constructing William Thornhill as a poor man who does the unspeakable in order to ensure his wealth as secured. She presents the white settlers of Australia – free men and convicts alike – as similar in their shared value of money. Although the social system divides them, it also unites them when they face a common enemy – the Aboriginal population who does not have a monetary system. Grenville this contrast to present the conflict that arose between the white settlers and the Aboriginal population. As she does this, she represents the white settlers to appear ignorant and too caught up in their own lifestyle to appreciate that of someone else’s. Her use of Thornhill’s child accentuates this value, as he plays with the Aboriginal children and brings home knowledge that Thornhill himself is jealous of – but too proud to learn. This longing represents the idea that humans only want to connect and find similarities – but social constructs and hierarchies prevent this from occurring naturally.
Steinbeck in The Pearl presents his staunchly anti-capitalist view through the life of Kino and the segregation he (and the other Mexicans) experience from the rest of society. He believes that classism is a direct result of racism, and that in order to prevent classism and create a free and equal world, everyone must accept and understand that no is inferior and no one is superior. This is easier said than done, but Steinbeck uses the pearl to symbolise monetary value and the corrosion this causes in society. He views greed and corruption as the children of capitalism, and believes that without capitalism the populations of the world would experience unity and harmony. The Secret River presents a similar perspective on the monetary system. The development of William Thornhill from poor waterman to wealthy nobleman is no simple journey, and his participation of the slaughter of Aboriginals is a decision that will haunt and corrode his soul for the rest of his life. Grenville uses this development to represent how deeply money, greed and lust can change us – Thornhill begins his journey as a fair, giving man who loves his wife and his happy with her and nothing else by his side. His journey ends, however, with him putting money about the happiness of his wife, but the money he has accrued does not shelter him from the horrors of his past. Grenville’s construction of Thornhill enables her to [present this perspective on money and the corruption it harbours.
A resistant reading is something that is common to all texts. Both The Pearl and The Secret River can be read with a feminist reading, although the former more so. Kino’s treatment of his wife, Juana, is questionable – although Steinbeck did not create The Pearl to highlight issues of domestic violence. Instead, it is a product of the time in which Steinbeck was writing. Despite his ignorance of his patriarchal sexism, the conflict between husband and wife is one that is distracting and takes away from the overall message of the book. In The Secret River, there is the expected sexism experienced between husband and wife. Sal is treated, although not unkindly, as inferior. Her decisions, emotions and opinions are all beneath hose of Thornhill. She is seen as too emotional to be able to capable make the appropriate choice in almost all tings. However, The Secret River also provokes resistant readings to do with communism. If communism, rather than capitalism or a monarchy, had been implemented within Australia, the harsh divide between the indigenous population and the white settlers would not have occurred. Although Grenville did not write The Secret River to intentionally portray communism as good, it does appear throughout her text as an obvious solution to the crises that occur. Interestingly, although the texts are similar in many ways, communism is a dominant reading within Steinbeck’s, and a resistant reading in Grenville’s novel.
Racism and classism feature heavily in both The Pearl and The Secret River. Steinbeck presents his attitudes and values through the characterisation of Kino and the doctor, who represent their respective races. His belief that racism in the root of classism is evident all throughout his text, despite the resistant reading of feminism. Steinbeck’s contempt for money and the monetary system is similar to Grenville’s. In The Secret River, her value of familial support and respect for all people is evident through her characterisation of both the Aboriginals and white settlers. Her assumption that money corrodes morals and the soul is represented through the development of her main character, William Thornhill. Both these texts explore, in depth, the connotation and ideas surrounding racism and classism – and their effect of society.
A Dollar Cannot Buy a Smile: Riches vs. Happiness in ‘The Pearl’
What is greed? Should family be sacrificed in return of money? Does greed ruin a person? These are all questions that are answered in the book, The Pearl, by John Steinbeck. In The Pearl, a simple man named Kino, and his wife Juana, risk their lives to protect a pearl which they believe can ultimately cure their sick son. While some may say that money can buy happiness, John Steinbeck’s narrative suggests that money cannot buy happiness because money can destroy a family and money makes people a target for evil.
After Kino obtains the pearl, Steinbeck shows that money can destroy a family. Kino wakes up in the middle of the night after hearing Juana leave their house, planning to throw the pearl in the ocean. Kino reacts swiftly to protect his wealth because he believes it will bring him happiness: “He struck her in the face with his clenched fist and she fell among the boulders, and he kicked her in the side.” (Steinbeck 76). The pearl caused Kino to physically abuse Juana. This does the opposite of making the couple happy. Towards the end of the book, Kino begins to realize the effects of having the pearl. He is looking at the pearl when he realizes the trouble that it has caused him: “And in the surface of the pearl he saw Coyotito lying in the little cave with his head shot way.” (Steinbeck 117). The purpose of having the pearl was to use it to save Coyotito. In the end it killed him.
Kino’s family was destroyed because of the pearl. The second point that Steinbeck demonstrated in his book was that money makes people a target for evil. Kino was attacked multiple times by greedy people attempting to steal the pearl. One person was so jealous of his newfound wealth that he burned down his house, along with all of his belongings: “A tall edifice of fire lighted the pathway. Kino broke into a run; it was his brush house, he knew.” (Steinbeck 81). Kino lost everything. Kino’s house getting burned down represents that greed can destroy all of a person’s possessions. Additionally, someone attacked Kino in his sleep: “Greedy fingers went through his clothes, frantic fingers searched him, and the pearl, knocked from his hand, lay winking behind a little stone in the pathway.” (Steinbeck 77). The pearl has brought more evil to Kino and his family than fortune. Kino was put in danger several times due to the pearl, which also caused Kino to lose everything.
While some may believe that money can improve one’s rank in society, Steinbeck clearly demonstrates that Kino and Juana are happy with their lives and do not desire much more. Juana describes how she feels about the pearl by saying, “Kino, the pearl is evil. Let us destroy it before it destroys us.” (Steinbeck 73). Juana thinks they do not need the pearl to be happy, that they already have everything they need. They live a simple life, but they enjoy it: “On her hard bare feet she went to the hanging box where Coyotito slept, and she leaned over and said a little reassuring word.” (Steinbeck 2). Although Kino and Juana have little, they have their son, which means everything to them. Kino and Juana do not care about their rank in society as long as they are happy.
In the end of the book, Kina and Juana threw the pearl back into the water, where it came from. This represents that Kino and Juana ended up where they started. The pearl brought them so much trouble that they had get rid of it. This also shows that money does not necessarily mean happiness. Steinbeck demonstrates this by explaining throughout his book that money destroys family relationships and that money attracts evil.