The Pearl is a memory; Steinbeck tells the reader this in the forward of his novella. It is also a story for us, but it is not about us; it is not about us, but it is about us. This is the world according to Steinbeck: The world is not black and white–but memories are. This “memory” of the pearl mirrors our society, just as our past mirrors our future.
For many of Steinbeck’s most famous works, Steinbeck tells one story. Fastening new characters onto this story, he tells the story of “the illusion of dreams.” And as in his similar stories, through naturalism he repeats this state of disillusionment. One possible illusion left unbroken by the author is the idea of religion. Religion is left hanging in the balance, neither falling nor reigning. He hints and questions the idea, but does not seem to know the place for it in his own story.
The author’s profound ability to pour human nature into minor characters is felt each time the protagonists travel to town. As is expected in Steinbeck stories, the weak and poor are rich in truths found by experiences that are related to easily by the reader.
Steinbeck’s subtle use of foreshadowing, presented by nature, is yet again present. The story’s ending is told through the actions of animals. So the reader is left expecting the end. The reader is left confident in that all along nature indeed represents the characters, as he assigns the protagonists animal-like characteristics and finally calls them animals by name. With the end being known early on, it is not usually the climax of a Steinbeck story that shocks, it is the storytelling itself—the final images. In his other master-works, these much expected scenes hold more weight, for they shock us even as we know when, where, and to whom they are happening. This is not the case in The Pearl. Its only disappointment is found not in the development of the climax, but the plane-Jane image taking its place. The novella’s zenith is lost in an all to “normal” haze, for we have come to expect a clear, gut-wrenching final snap-shot that will long be in our minds. With this story, one has to look back within the exposition to find that image, the raising of the perfect pearl by a bloody hand.