Fiction — print. Penguin, 1994. First published 1948. 97 pgs. Library copy.
Steinbeck’s novella examines the hold money has on people. The story begins with Kino and Juana’s baby boy, Coyotito, being bitten by a scorpion in La Paz, Mexico. The couple lacks the funds to pay the town’s doctor and are turned away with the slam of a gate. The couple take their sick little boy down to the waterfront and use a tribal cure to try to save the little boy’s life.
The couple worries for their son’s safety, but Kino’s work as pearl finder must be performed. He has no choice but to continue searching in the water for the key to lifting them out of poverty. In the depths of the waters off Mexico, however, Kino one day finds the “pearl of the world”.
At first, Kino envisions a better future the pearl will bring to his family — new clothes, a proper wedding for him and Juana, and a proper education for Coyotito. But as the wealth and happiness he perceives the pearl will provide for his family takes hold of him, his judgement begins to cloud.
Steinbeck’s point in this simple, short tale is glaring obvious — money does not buy happiness. Greed and hope are both motivators of people’s actions; we want more money because we hope it will make our lives happier. The introduction to the novella in this particular edition, which was almost as long as the tale itself, says the tale was based on a Mexican folk tale.
The novella didn’t do it for me, though. At ninety-seven pages, the story is easy to follow but it felt really condensed to me. The character’s motivations shift abruptly at the end of the tale, and therefore the ending was lacking in explanation. I loved Steinbeck’s writing style in another short story by him I have read, but this particular style was so sparse and dry that I had a hard time reconciling the two stories in my mind.