woensdag 17 juli 2013

'The Pearl': Materialism Destroys Traditional Life Mexican Fisherman

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  • John Steinbeck
  • 'The Pearl'
  • Penguin Classics, 2000 ( 1st published in 1945)
  • 'De parel'
  • Vertaald uit het Engels door: E.D. Veltman-Boissevain
  • Salamander,1959

Journalist and writer John Steinbeck is best known of his book ‘Travels with Charley’ in which he describes his journey through America. As an observer, Steinbeck began his writing career by focusing on social inequality and his work emphasizes on the life of the poor. A true pearl and a great starting point to get to know the writings of Steinbeck is the short story ‘The Pearl’. 

Best Travel Book

The British newspaper The Telegraph once voted ‘Travels with Charley’ by John Steinbeck as one of the twenty best travel books all time. Well, written in English that is. The book is inspiring for many,  like the Dutch journalist and author Geert Mak. He based his ‘Reizen zonder John’, soon to be translated into English entitled ‘Travels without John’, on Steinbeck’s travelogue. But, Steinbeck’s writing career was almost at its end when he wrote ‘Travels with Charley’ in 1962.

Commitment to the Poor

The novel ‘Grapes of Wrath’ (1939)became an international bestseller. It's about a poor American family that moves from the American countryside to the big city in search for a job in the years of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, one of Steinbeck’s main interests was the Mexican community. Almost a third of his work was either based in Mexico or about Mexican descendents, as Abebooks.com states in this article. One beautiful example of his commitment to the Mexicans is ‘The Pearl’, published in 1945.

Money Ruins Simplicity

‘The pearl’ is written in a style so pure and simple, that this by itself denotes Steinbeck’s values. He depicts Kino, his wife Juana and his son Coyotito. They live a happy, but simple life until Coyotito gets stung by a scorpion. The doctor, who
“was of a race which for nearly four hundred years has beaten and starves and robbed and despised Kino’s race” ( 2000: p. 13-14) 

will only come when he gets paid, but this Mexican family doesn’t have any money.

The next day they set out to sea and are determined to find the pearl that will make them rich. While Juana whispers her magic, Kino hears the song of his people, the Song of the Pearl That Might Be. They find it, big and shiny. Kino dreams of a good education for his son and the song of the pearl is happy. Word spreads and reaches the village and everyone becomes greedy, wants to have a part. Kino becomes suspicious and is alert, because others try to steal his pearl. Juana warns him, bad luck has come since they have the pearl. She wants to give it back to the sea, but is stopped hard-handed by Kino, who is now only hearing the sound of evil. 

How To Retrieve Time Before Materialism?

The happy sound of the pearl has become an the sound of evil and at this point:
 “the old life was gone forever .[...] All of the time Juana had been trying to rescue something of the old peace, of the time before the pearl. But now it was gone, and there was no retrieving it. And knowing this, she abandoned the past instantly. There was nothing to do but save themselves.’ (2000: p. 61)

Evil in Humankind

The story ends in a catastrophe. In less than hundred pages Steinbeck has shown his attraction to simple life and the beauty of Mexican traditions. The traits of humankind are described in a very powerful way, which easily shows Steinbeck’s ideas on materialism and money. In this story there is no golden mean, only wrong and right.

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