Revisiting the Columbus-like template of colonial subjugation of indigenous populations, The Pearl by John Steinbeck takes the form of a parable which follows the seemingly idyllic family life of Kino, his wife Juana and their infant son, Coyotito.
However, the harmony of the “Song of the Family” is soon discordant as Kino watches a scorpion crawl down the rope that holds the hanging basket where Coyotito lies and is powerless to stop it from stinging the baby. Kino is rendered more powerless still as his few ugly seed pearls as “dull and grey as little ulcers” are rejected as payment by the Spanish doctor in town.
Kino dives from his canoe, hoping to discover something of value he can sell to pay for the doctor. He finds an ancient oyster which yields an immense pearl, “The Pearl of the World.”
It is with a certain foreboding that we approach Chapter Three . . .
Tracking characterization, plot, and setting through writing and art . . .
Finding the “Pearl of the World” in Chapter Two from the oyster’s point-of-view
by Fiona Lawson
The Oyster sat like an old man, waiting for something. It was smooth, but it had dents and scars in places that told its story. It had heard songs before, music of the deep, distorted and strange, but beautiful. Its life was uneventful, but miraculous. The Oyster, itself, didn’t see any excitement, sitting on the ocean floor.
Inside the safety of himself was his daughter, Pearl. She was beautiful and iridescent, and as soon as she was born, the Oyster locked her away inside his body. He sometimes heard her crying inside, wanting to come out, but the Oyster was wise and knew this was right. Other elders like himself locked their children away, too. No one had ever come to this side of the ocean before. Their beautiful children stayed safe and innocent. Pearl grew bigger and bigger. And she was the largest of any of the other children ever. Sometimes the other children, the dirty children, begged Oyster to let Pearl out to play. But he was too smart. He held his tongue.
When the shadow cast down from the surface, blocking the occasional sun ray cascading down from the heavens, everyone heard about it. The young oysters gossiped and laughed. The children went back to their mothers, and cowered close. The elders stayed silent and still. Had this ever happened before?
“Daddy?” asked Pearl, her voice muffled inside of his body. “What’s happening?”
Oyster couldn’t respond.
A shell-less, dirty, disgusting-looking creature made his way down. He looked brawny and strong, but he seemed to be as if a dead oyster’s insides had been made into a new creature entirely. It frightened him, to say the least, and all of the oysters were still and silent. Not a bubble was uttered. Slowly, slowly, Pearl opened the jaw of her father to look out. Sense was knocked into her, but it was too late to close the shell.
The shell-less had noticed her. He peered at Oyster questioningly, tilting his head to the side, and he grinned mischievously when a thin beam of light ricocheted off of Pearl. Before anyone else could, he sliced Oyster free of his home where he was forever stuck, and clutched him between his two feelers.
They broke through the surface and immediately Oyster weakened. Pearl was alright, but Oyster couldn’t be in the sun. Another shell-less was beside him, with a smaller one in her lap. She was extremely intrigued. She urged the first shell-less in an unknown tongue, and adjusted the small one so that he would not moan, hushing him softly.
With a wild look in his eye, the first shell-less slid his knife out from behind him and held it high over Oyster. Pearl had one thought of flitting fright as the human struck. Oyster did not scream, did not utter a single whisper. The human went in deeper and her father shattered. Pearl almost screamed, but remembered her consciousness and kept quiet. The shell of what she had been protected in all her life fell to the ground. For a moment there was hope, thinking it could come back somehow, be her father again. But the muscle withered. Oyster’s last thought was one of regret.
Now only Pearl was in the shell-less’s hand. He had to grasp with both to make sure she did not fall. The second shell-less sank to the floor, moaning. Pearl decided it was because her husband had just killed an innocent creature. But she was just close enough to hear the second one mutter something in awe, and she understood.
She stammered on a word, and then the first scared Pearl. He made noises like a rabid animal, sounds that Pearl had heard coming from the fish after the shark came like they would every once in a while. Then she noticed other boats, with other ugly shell-lesses, and they came closer and closer to Pearl. She almost wailed in fear, but the smallest shell-less sighed loudly. She was scared, and alone, and had just lost her beloved father, her only family, and it was all her fault.
The sun looked down at Pearl with a reproachful look.
“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.”
— John Steinbeck