The Pearl is a novella published in 1947 by Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck. He got inspired writing the book after visiting La Paz, Baja California Sur in an expedition with his friend marine biologist, Ed Ricketts. Near La Paz, an island called Isla Espiritu Santo that is considered the “crown jewel” of the Gulf. Many pearl divers find a lot of precious gems in the area. The novel, East of Eden, was published in 1952 by the same author, John Steinbeck. Steinbeck wrote the book for his sons to tell them the background of the country he grew up in. The sight, the sound, the smells, and colors.
In The Pearl, the setting is La Paz, Mexico. The novella opens up describing the everyday life of a family. Kino is a young, strong man who is a poor pearl diver that collects them to provide for his wife, Juana, and his son Coyotito for meager money. It all changes when Kino surfaces from the sea with a pearl which was “perfect as a moon”. “It was the greatest pearl in the world”, but it ruined his life. The pearl brought hope, but also evil and greed. The pearl brought greed in a way when people heard of Kino’s finding, they grew interested in him. The pearl went into the dreams and plans of everyone. For example, when the Doctor was asked to help Kino’s baby, Coyotito, from a scorpion’s sting, he refused, but as soon as he found out about the pearl, he acted upon greed over actual care and attention. Sadly, the family thought they could escape Kino’s mistakes, but ended up being followed by the evil of greedy men and death.
East of Eden sets primarily in the Salina Valley, California between the beginning of the 20th century and the end of World War I. Some chapters take place way back in the Civil War or in other states. As Steinbeck sets the outline of Salina Valley, he introduces a humble couple. Samuel Hamilton, and his wife Liza, who are immigrants from Ireland. Time flies by, when suddenly a wealthy stranger arrives, Adam Trask, with his wife, Cathy Ames, and purchases the ranch near Samuel Hamilton in the Valley. Cathy Ames is described as a “malformed soul” who enjoys hurting people. Cathy left from her home and burned her house leaving her parents to burn up in flames. She then became a mistress to a whoremaster, who beat her up as he finds out that she has been using him. He then leaves her severely injured in Adam’s and Charles doorstep. Charles is Adam’s brother. Adam falls in love with Cathy, unaware of her past, and marries her. However that same night of the marriage Cathy goes to Charles bedroom and seduces him without Adam’s knowledge.
They arrive and settle in the Valley, near the Hamilton ranch, and Cathy ends up finding out that she’s pregnant. Cathy does not want to be a mother or live in California. Shortly after, she gives birth to twins and shoots Adam in the shoulder as she flees. Adam fell into deep depression after. He snapped out of it by getting punched by Hamilton. Lee, Adam, and Hamilton decide on names for the twins from the Bible. They decided to name them Aron and Caleb. Cathy then became a prostitute in a brothel in the city of Salinas and renames herself “Kate Albany”. She makes a plan to get close enough with the owner, Faye, to inherit the brothel and kill her easily without suspicion. She accomplished to inherit the brothel and turned it into an infamous place of sexual sadism.
In East of Eden, Steinbeck describes the story of Cain and Abel, from the Book of Genesis within the Trasks. In the Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God. The shepherd Abel offers God his best lamb, while Cain, a farmer, offers Him grain. God preferred Abel’s offering instead of Cain’s, making him jealous and ending up killing Abel. The first generation in the motif is Charles and Adam. Cyrus Trask, their father, favors Adam’s birthday gift, a puppy, over Charles expensive knife because Cyrus loves Adam more. Charles almost beat Adam to death over jealousy. The last generation, Aron, and Caleb. When Caleb offers 15,000 dollars to Adam, he gets mad that Caleb has taken advantage of farmers during war-time. He gets really mad that he takes Aron to their mother’s brothel, making Aron’s belief of their mother being dead a lie. Aron gets heartbroken and enlists in the army, resulting in his death. Inadvertently, Caleb killed Aron.
The Pearl and East of Eden share similarities with a major theme: good and evil. In East of Eden, Samuel Hamilton represents goodness, while Cathy Ames represents evilness. Samuel acts as a mentor, somewhat of a fatherly figure towards Adam. He was the first person to see through of what Cathy really is. Cathy affected Adam in a horrible way, especially when she abandoned the twins and him. When Hamilton retired, he lived peacefully as his children cared for and supported him. Cathy killed herself in her dark, gray room, all alone. Good and evil interprets into songs in The Pearl. Throughout the story, Kino hears songs in his head in an intellectual level. For example, when Kino’s eyes drew towards the hanging box where Coyotito hung and saw that the scorpion was ready to sting, he heard in his mind the “Song of Evil”. By that, he meant the music of the foe, the scorpion. The “Song of the Family” represents goodness, warmth, and security. He hears the rhythm of the family song is” grinding stone where Juana worked the corn for the morning cakes. Kino hears it when Juana sings an ancient song or melody to Coyotito that has three notes and “endless variety of intervals”.
The main difference found between the books are the protagonists, Adam Trask and Kino. Adam is naive to the root, a man-child. Adam knew no evil until he met his “Eve”. When Adam fell in love with Cathy, there was “nothing Cathy did or said could warp Adam’s Cathy”. He couldn’t even get a hint that Cathy wanted nothing to do with him when she said she was going to leave as soon as possible. Apparently, he didn’t listen because he ended up getting finessed by Cathy. If it wasn’t for Lee taking care of the twins and him, he probably would’ve have not made it. Kino, on the other hand, is manly, he is a dedicated pearl diver, which is a dangerous job. He is good towards Juana and Coyotito. When Kino found the pearl, he changed, became the irony of what the townspeople called him, a manimal. He acted out characteristics of an animal because he was defending his pearl. Just how a herd of lions protects their family from predators, but for Kino, it was protection from thieves and trackers. Even Juana could see it in him, the instinct to kill in his eyes, as she lay on the shore after Kino punched and kicked her when he saw her attempting to throw the pearl back to the sea.
The Pearl relates to today’s society in many ways. One of the most common one being racial oppression. Kino’s people and himself experienced this hatred because they are “Indians” and lack of education. When Kino went to sell his pearl, the pearl buyer was trying to trick Kino into thinking the pearl was worthless. Another occasion would be when Kino was talking to the priest and said that his name in the bible meant someone who “tamed the desert and sweetened the minds of the people”. The priest knew Kino and his people couldn’t read. They are looked upon so horribly by the townspeople that they are not considered human because of their race. In East of Eden, the book reveals that good and evil in history repeats itself. Every person since Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel and to now has struggled to choose between good and bad decisions. The novel tells us that we have the decision to overcome the bad choices, the evilness. Throughout the last chapters, Cal struggles to find the path he wants to take. He believed he would turn out like his mother because of his actions. With the help of Lee, Cal has the knowledge that morality is a free choice, and that all humans are not perfect. This lesson is teaching us that we will make mistakes, but we decide whether we want to keep doing them.
Both of these books took me on different roller coasters of emotions, but out of the two books, my favorite was East of Eden. The characters are well developed but complicated in details. Every detail of a character is so specific that you can paint in your mind how the character looks or acts. Especially at the beginning when Steinbeck was describing the Salina Valley, the Gabilan Mts., the rivers, etc., he set the scene beautifully. The Pearl is a great book too. It taught me some things are too good to be true. Overall, reading these books was such an experience because they made think more deeply, and have different views on everything. In no doubt, I will continue reading more of Steinbeck’s works.