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, consider giving your students 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 of The Pearl

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1947
  • Length: 90 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1010
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

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.

Content Warning: The Pearl contains some violence.

What Your Students Will Love About The Pearl

  • The insightful moral lessons
  • The tense and suspenseful scenes

Potential Student Struggles With The Pearl

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

Learning Objectives for 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.

Literary Elements in The Pearl

  • Allegory
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Parable
  • Paradox
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Pearl

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.

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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.

Related Works:

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.

Related Works:

Other Resources for The Pearl

Order The Pearl Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Pearl Paperback Student Edition
The Pearl Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Pearl AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Pearl Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Pearl Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Pearl Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Pearl Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in September 2016. It has been updated as of March 2020.