The Pearl versus The Secret River

May 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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