How to Teach The Pearl

John Steinbeck's The Pearl is an interesting parable about the corrupting nature of wealth and the destructiveness of greed. Students should understand that since this novel is a parable, it teaches a moral lesson and characters, objects, and events have symbolic significance. During class discussion, students can identify and analyze these symbols.

Before reading, it will be useful to have a background lesson on the mistreatment and marginalization of Indians in Mexican society and the Mexican legend that inspired Steinbeck to write The Pearl. You can also discuss the novel as an allusion to the parable of the "Pearl of Great Price" from the New Testament (Matthew 13:45-46). A lesson on the literary movement of Naturalism will help students understand Steinbeck's portrayal of characters, nature, and hardships. This background will also allow for a deeper discussion on determinism and free will and what is truly to blame for the tragic fate of Kino's son.

Summary

Kino, a Native American, lives in La Paz, Mexico, with his wife, Juana, and their infant son, Coyotito. When Coyotito is stung by a scorpion, the local doctor refuses to treat him because Kino cannot pay. Hoping to obtain wealth, Kino dives and finds a large pearl. However, the pearl Kino dreams of selling to buy his family a better life ultimately causes him great tragedy as he confronts jealous neighbors, thieves, and his own inner greed and violence. After people trying to obtain the pearl destroy his home and shoot his son, Kino throws it back into the ocean.

The Pearl

The Pearl

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This enduring, classic fable about human greed, told in Steinbeck’s characteristic style, should be shared with every classroom. This book is eligible for Prestwick House paperback volume discounts.

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Content Warning

The Pearl contains some violence.

Objectives for Teaching The Pearl

  • Identify who or what Kino, Juana, Coyotito, the doctor, the priest, and the trackers symbolize.
  • Examine the function of setting and the role of nature in the novel.
  • Evaluate the novel as allegory.
  • Examine the role of women, as represented by Kino's wife, Juana, in the story.
  • Discuss how the blending of Spanish and Indian cultures affects the story and Kino's life
  • Discuss the consequences of greed and evil, and identify them as motifs of the story.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Parable
  • Paradox
  • Symbolism
The Pearl - Downloadable Teaching Unit

The Pearl - Downloadable Teaching Unit

Downloadable PDF File / Reproducible

The Teaching Unit for The Pearl gives you a comprehensive academic framework that saves you hours of prep work. You can rely on this well-researched unit as a strong base for your lesson plan — it was written by one of our seasoned educators with your needs in mind.

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Themes and Motifs

  • Prejudice — The doctor is racially and socially prejudiced against natives and refuses to treat Kino's son. The doctor's assertion, "I'm a doctor, not a veterinary" implies that he views Native Americans as animals.
  • Fate vs. Free Will — Characters' lives are determined by forces beyond human control, as is shown when a scorpion stings Coyotito and Kino finds the pearl. However, people also exercise free will. Kino decides to open the oyster, reject the pearl buyers' offers, flee the village, and throw the pearl back into the ocean.
  • Greed —  This novel illustrates the destructive nature of greed as Kino's desire for wealth and status through the pearl causes him to be violent towards his wife and ultimately results in Coyotito's death.

Key Facts

  • Length: 90 pages
  • Publication Date: 1947
  • Lexile Measure: 1010
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10
The Pearl - Compelte Teacher's Kit

The Pearl - Complete Teacher's Kit

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Movies

The Pearl has been adapted into two movies. The 1947 Mexican-American film, La Perla, directed by Emilio Fernandez and co-written by Steinbeck, is critically acclaimed and has been preserved in the United States National Film Registry. In 2001, The Pearl was loosely adapted into a movie directed by Alfredo Zacharias; however, this film deviates significantly from the novel and received generally poor reviews.

Your students will love:

  • The insightful moral lessons.
  • The tense and suspenseful scenes.

Students may have problems with:

  • The slow pacing at the beginning of the novel.
  • Feeling emotionally invested in flat characters.

Available from Prestwick House:

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The Pearl
Complete Teacher's Kit
AP Teaching Unit
Multiple Critical Perspectives
Response Journal

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