The Pearl - Happiness and Success
The Pearl (1947)
Written by the American, John Steinbeck (1902-68),
A village of native Indians in the
Gulf of California, Mexico, around the beginning of the twentieth
- Mexico used to be a Spanish colony (resulting in arrogant and unpopular Spanish
- Steinbeck was greatly influenced by the anti-materialistic views of the psychologist, Carl Jung (pictured right).
Kino, a Mexican Indian pearl diver
Juana, his wife
Coyotito, their baby son
Despite being short of money and food, a poor Mexican family are extremely happy:
- Coyotito (their baby son).
Kino awakes with a beautiful song of love in his head, but, after breakfast, Coyotito is bitten by a
Juana sucks out as much of the poison as she can and tells Kino to send for the doctor who doesn’t come.
So they take Coyotito to the doctor who is rich, greedy and
Spanish (much to Kino’s disgust because the Spanish colonials have always exploited his
people, particularly the greedy pearl buyers).
He is even angrier about the doctor’s refusal to see the baby and accept his pearls as
The next day Juana removes the swelling with a primitive seaweed remedy and Kino then joyously discovers the
world’s finest pearl (the ‘Pearl of the World’) , news of which spreads quickly.
Kino dreams of all the things he can buy:
- a school education and medical treatment (for Coyotito).
- a lavish church wedding (for himself and Juana).
Immediately people want his money:
- the priest (for church repairs).
- the doctor (who now says Coyotito is his patient)
- beggars and the pearl buyers.
This greed creates hatred and jealousy towards Kino.
Despite knowing that the baby is now completely well, the doctor gives him a drug that makes him very sick
again, so that he can demand money for another medicine.
Kino says he will pay him the next day when he sells the pearl. The doctor sees where the pearl is buried. Kino
is now afraid of everyone.
That night someone unsuccessfully tries to steal it, injuring Kino. Juana says it will destroy them
and urges him to throw it back into the sea. But he refuses and tries to sell it.
But all the pearl buyers have agreed to offer a low price. Feeling cheated, Kino decides to
sell it in the capital city.
After another unsuccessful burglary, Juana takes the pearl in the middle of the night and is about to throw it
in to the sea, when an enraged Kino catches up with her and punches her.
He then kills another potential thief. So, fearing a murder charge, Juana tells him they must leave the
Going back for their things, they find Kino’s canoe (a family heirloom, his most prized
possession and vital to his job) destroyed by vandals, and their hut in
They hide in Kino’s brother’s hut and then begin a long journey to the capital.
But three thieves follow, and Kino is forced to kill them. A rifle shot also kills
With Juana and the dead baby, he finally throws the pearl into the sea with all his might.
Lessons for happiness and success
1. “The love of money is the root of all evil”
This saying of St Paul (1 Timothy ch.6 v.10) is illustrated by the greed,
jealousy and hatred that the pearl creates.
“The essence of pearl was mixed with the essence of men and a curious dark residue was
Kino’s determination to keep the pearl leads to:
- his moral degeneration into a savage killer and wife beater.
- hatred and jealousy (“like loneliness when love is withheld”).
2. Be good
Kino learns that the person you are is much more important than the things you
own, like the pearl.
He and his family are happier when they are honest and
loving without the temptation of money.
3. Live simply
The simple (but happy) lives of the Indians contrast with the
greed and extravagance of the doctor and the pearl buyers.
4. Do something useful and worthwhile
Kino is happy as a pearl diver, but the pearl’s discovery destroys his canoe, which is vital to
5. Pain isn’t all bad
The heartache of Coyotito’s death:
- makes Kino see sense about the pearl.
- strengthens his love for Juana.
6. The best marriages are between equals
The pearl saga reveals Juana as:
- Kino’s equal, a friend and adviser.
7. Listen and learn
If Kino had listened to Juana’s advice to throw away the pearl, much sadness would have
8. Accept the past
Once he finally throws the pearl away, Kino has no regrets about his decision.
His acceptance of its evil makes him avoid tortuous questions like:
'What if I had sold the pearl and been rich?'
9. Humour helps
Kino laughs a great deal about losing such a valuable pearl.
10. Love nature
The Indians appreciate the beauty of the countryside around them, so they respect and look
11. Know yourself
The pearl makes Kino more aware of his strengths and weaknesses, leading to his final
realization that it had caused him more harm than good.
Key quotes on money and happiness
This pearl has become my soul ... If I give it up, I shall lose my soul, Kino
But the pearls were accidents, and the finding of one was luck. It has brought evil, Kino, my husband, it will
destroy us, Juana
Two literature websites to