The Pearl

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The Pearl Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on John Steinbeck's The Pearl. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck grew up in and around Salinas, California. Steinbeck's comfortable California upbringing instilled in him a love of nature and the land, but also of the diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups featured throughout his fiction. He attended Stanford University, but never completed his degree. Instead he moved to New York in 1925 to become a freelance writer. He returned to California after that plan failed and earned his first real recognition for Tortilla Flat (1935), a collection of stories about peasant workers in Monterrey, California. He published many more novels throughout his lifetime and today is best known for the novella Of Mice and Men (1937) and the novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and died six years later.
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Historical Context of The Pearl
In the early 1940’s, race riots were erupting in Los Angeles due to the discrimination of Mexican and Mexican-American teenagers. In 1942, for example, twenty-four Mexican gangs were tried in a murder case that lacked evidence of their guilt. A year later, US Navy servicemen attacked a group of Mexicans, but escaped any criminal charges while the Mexicans they attacked were persecuted. This period of racial conflict was reminiscent of the Spaniards’ colonization of parts of Mexico and their subjugation of native Mexicans in the 16th century. The white oppression of Mexicans both historically and in Steinbeck’s California, greatly informed his writing of The Pearl.
Other Books Related to The Pearl
Steinbeck derived some aspects of The Pearl from his screenplay for the 1941 documentary, The Forgotten Village, which depicts the contentious coexistence of modern and folk medicine in a Mexican town. The novel’s central plot, however, is based on the Mexican legend of a young boy who discovers a great pearl, which Steinbeck later narrated in his 1951 Log from the Sea of Cortez. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, whose simple prose resembles Steinbeck’s, might also be considered a related work. Published five years after The Pearl, it likewise deals with themes of nature, dignified work, ambition, and ruined dreams.
Key Facts about The Pearl
  • Full Title: The Pearl
  • When Written: 1944
  • Where Written: California
  • When Published: 1947
  • Literary Period: Modernist novel
  • Genre: Novella/ Parable
  • Setting: La Paz, Baja California Sur
  • Climax: Kino’s beating of Juana and his killing of a man in protection of the pearl
  • Point of View: Third person (from the perspective of the villagers who pass down the tale through generations)
Extra Credit for The Pearl

From Kino to Kino. It is assumed that Kino was named after Eusebius Kino, a Jesuit missionary who explored the Gulf region in the 17th century.

From Film to Fiction. Steinbeck wrote The Pearl on an invitation from Emilio Fernandez, a well-known Mexican filmmaker, to write a screenplay depicting Mexican life. In consequence, The Pearl features few characters, simple and intense action, and cinematic viewpoints.