Steinbeck is known world-wide for such novels as Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. Students are still reading his books in classrooms and understanding the relevance of his subject matter to issues society faces today. In 1940 Steinbeck was radical due to his protagonists being poor and dispossessed. Many of his works have been made into films and won awards such as Pulitzer and National Book Awards for Grapes of Wrath as well as the Nobel Peace Prize for The Winter of Our Discontent (Shillinglaw 176-8). Yet despite this fame, the modest and soft-spoken Steinbeck suffered persecution which frightened and disheartened him (Wagner-Martin viii). Although the subject matter was shocking during Steinbeck's time, it is still an issue that is relevant to society now. Immigration laws, union strikes, cultural, economic, and linguistic gaps continue to grow.
The pearl operates on many levels, it can be seen as a simple legend
that has been passed down through the years or as a didactic tale
of the snares of materialism. Some see it as an example of the biblical
lesson in Matthew where Jesus first warns not to throw your pearls in
with your swine(7:6) then later tells of a man who sold all he had for
a pearl of great value (13:45). These are similar to parables where
Jesus admonished his disciples to leave their belongings and follow
him, thus they would be storing up for themselves treasures in
heaven(6:19) rather than earthly material wealth and possessions. There
are many ways to interpret the text, this is what has kept it alive for
so many years.
Although The Pearl,
published in 1947, may not have been one of Steinbeck’s most famous
novels, it came at a time when he was experiencing a great deal of
change, both tumultuous and joyful in nature. The 1940's were
pivotal in Steinbeck’s life, not only as a writer but in private
matters as well. In fact, in 1940, while Sailing down to Mexico on the Western Flyer
with best friend and business partner Ricketts, Steinbeck’s then wife
Carol and ninety cases of beer (St. Pierre 105), Steinbeck stumbled
upon the legend of the pearl, which he noted in his Sea of Cortez.
Approximately five years later it is with a new wife, Gwyn, an
actress-singer he met in Hollywood while fighting with Carol (Kiernan
243), that the legend develops into a more intricate story involving a
married man with an infant child, which Steinbeck experiences himself
almost simultaneously. In fact, Gwyn develops the soundtrack for the
film released in 1947 (Steinbeck 264). Yet their marriage is only to
last five years, (married a few days after his divorce from Carol in
1943 to a separation in 1948 a few months after his best friend
Ricketts’ death) producing two sons, the second of which allegedly from
another man, all rumors untrue (Shillinglaw 177). Steinbeck marries his
third and final wife in 1950, ending the decade of emotional
roller-coasters of severe ups and downs.