El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

“The Pearl” by John Steinbeck

with 2 comments

Hi. Welcome to the first installment of the Book Nook. (Ok, I know the “Book Nook” is kind of a lame name–hey! that rhymes too–I just wanted someplace to write about books. I am willing to change it if somone comes up with a better name.) I just finished re-reading “The Pearl”, a short novel or a long short-story by John Steinbeck. Of course, Steinbeck is known as a great American author. One of my favorite books is his novel about the westward migration of Americans from the mid-west dust bowl of the 1930’s to California, “The Grapes of Wrath”. The Grapes of Wrath will be a future topic in the Book Nook. I recently saw the movie version dubbed into Spanish and it was just as moving and inspiring as any of the dozen times I’ve watched it in English; maybe even more so, as I recognized parallels between the “Okies” and the current wave of Mexican immigrants. More on that later, now on to “The Pearl”. //www.gemdiamond.com/department/images/home/Pearls.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

I’m tempted to do a book report type post, but I am just going to use a few excerpts from the story to look at some enduring concepts that Steinbeck translates into wonderfully meaningful prose. The premise of the story is that “Kino”, a poor pearl diver finds a valuable pearl one day. The story follows the trail of events precipitated by his discovery of the pearl and the changes that occur in him, his family and his village because of it.

In the following passage the villagers are crowding around the door of Kino’s brush hut wondering what he will do with his sudden good fortune. Coyotito is the infant son of Kino and his wife Juana. “In the pearl he saw Coyotito sitting at a little desk in a school, just as Kino had once seen through an open door. And Coyotito was dressed in a jacket, and he had on a white collar and a broad silken tie. Moreover Coyotito was writing on a big piece of paper. Kino looked at his neighbors fiercely. ‘My son will go to school,’ he said, and the neighbors were hushed. Juana caught her breath sharply. Her eyes were bright as she watched him, and she looked quickly down at Coyotito in her arms to see whether this might be possible.

“But Kino’s face shown with prophecy. ‘My son will read and open the books, and my son will write and will know writing. And my son will know numbers, and these things will make us free–he will know and through him we will know.’ And in the pearl Kino saw himself and Juana squatting by the little fire in the brush hut while Coyotito read from a great book. ‘This is what the pearl will do,’ said Kino. And he had never said so many words together in his life. And suddenly he was afraid of his talking. His hand closed down over the pearl and cut the light away from it. Kino was afraid as a man is afraid who says ‘I will,’ without knowing.”

Powerful words from a simple man; a simple man wishing for his son the most powerful gift he could give him–literacy. Kino knew that books are a tool used by the literate to help make sense of the world and to pass on the collective knowledge. He also knew that men use the ideas in the books to control others that can’t decipher the written words in the books. He suspected that men lie about what is in the books and use those lies to their advantage. Kino was a simple man but he recognized that education could mean liberation for his son and for the people in his village.

In this next passage the village priest pays a visit to the hut. The church is portrayed as wanting its due. The priest is pictured as kindly but not completely trusted. “The priest came in–a graying, aging man with an old skin and a young sharp eye. Children, he considered these people, and he treated them like children. ‘Kino,’ he said softly, ‘thou art named after a great man–and a great Father of the Church.’ He made it sound like a benediction. ‘Thy namesake tamed the desert and sweetened the minds of thy people, didst thou know that? It is in the books.’ Kino looked quickly down at Coyotito’s head, where he hung on Juana’s hip. Some day, his mind said, that boy would know what things were in the books and what things were not.”

Again we see the importance given to literacy. The idea that “someday…that boy would know” shows that Kino looked to the future for his son, was depending on the future to give his son the power and knowledge of those that read.

In the story Coyotito is stung by a scorpion. Although they take the baby to the village doctor, the doctor refuses to see the child because he believes the parents can’t pay. Of course once the doctor heard about the pearl he appeared that night at Kino’s door. “Kino stood in the door, filling it, and hatred raged and flamed in back of his eyes, and fear, too, for the hundreds of years of subjugation were cut deep in him. ‘The baby is nearly well now,’ he said curtly. [The doctor] said, ‘Sometimes, my friend, the scorpion sting has a curious effect. There will be apparent improvement, and then without warning–pouf!’ ‘Sometimes’, the doctor went on in a liquid tone, ‘sometimes there will be a withered leg or a blind eye or a crumpled back. Oh, I know the sting of the scorpion, my friend and I can cure it.’ Kino felt the rage and hatred melting toward fear. He did not know, and perhaps this doctor did. And he could not take the chance of pitting his certain ignorance against this man’s possible knowledge. He was trapped as his people were always trapped, and would be until, as he had said, they could be sure that the things in the books were really in the books. He could not take a chance–not with the life or the straightness of Coyotito. He stood aside and let the doctor…enter the brush hut.”

Steinbeck shares a timeless truth, the ignorant are often subjugated by the educated. He knew in his heart that the doctor was only there because of greed. Kino felt that the baby would recover, but “he did not know” and “he could not take the chance….” He was suffering the powerlessness of illiteracy.

The final excerpt I would like to share comes that night as Kino slept a fearful, fitful sleep. “But Kino’s brain burned, even during his sleep, and he dreamed that Coyotito could read, that one of his own people could tell him the truth of things. And in his dream, Coyotito was reading from a book as big as a house, with letters as big as dogs, and the words galloped and played on the book. And then darkness spread over the page, and with the darkness came the music of evil again, and Kino stirred in his sleep….”

I have to recommend this story, and to those of us fortunate enough to be able to read I recommend that we consider the plight of those that can’t. And to those that hold back the gift of literacy from others I suggest that your own ignorance, fear and greed will not hold back the future of the people forever. When anyone is held captive by ignorance we are all made less whole as a race. (Notice that I haven’t made one direct reference to the elitists in Mexico that have decided an undereducated populace is easier to control, oops, so much for that. I’d like to add a comment here that according to the statistics that I have seen, sixty years ago the illiteracy rate in my city here in Mexico was 80%! That would have meant that my parents would not have been able to read and write! Frankly, based on the education available here now I doubt that the effective rate is much better. It is why, when you talk to Mexican immigrants in the US, they all say they are there to provide a better future for their children, a future they would not be allowed to achieve in Mexico.) Finally, I want to use a short quote from an Anton Chekov short story, which will also be featured in a future installment of the Book Nook. The author is talking about the lip service that the Russian (but it could refer just as easily to Mexican politicos) bureaucrats gave to education: “Education is necessary, but the masses aren’t ready for it.” Well, I think the time is now.


2 Responses

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  1. […] tagged scorpionOwn a WordPress blog? Make monetization easier with the WP Affiliate Pro plugin. "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck saved by 8 others     Kronicng112007 bookmarked on 05/31/08 | […]

  2. I could handle hanging out here at the Book Nook. Mind you I have no job, so some may call it loitering. I remember a group of what were called “hoods” in the neighborhood I grew up in. They loitered around a place called “Roberts”. Some of them turned out ok, so loitering is really not a bad thing. So I will burn a few cigarettes, drink some coffee and hang around if you don’t mind.
    Is the Book Nook going to cover (no pun intended) different subject matter? Or will you go with something maybe by Melville? How about filmography? Maybe change the name to The Book Nook and More….
    Please advise El Fomentador
    Senor El Schmidtser


    July 17, 2008 at 5:17 am

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