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The Pearl is a short novel. Its plot is well defined, the action moves forward within a structure of six chapters, it has a core of central characters, and the suspense builds as the story moves along. Readers say the sentences reflect the spoken quality of the New Testament-perhaps an influence of Steinbeck's early reading of the Bible. The author has chosen his words with precision, a skill he developed in part by working as a journalist.
In the preface to The Pearl you learn that the story will be told in the form of a parable. A parable is a short work, usually fictitious, that illustrates a lesson, often on the subject of good and evil. This is reminiscent of the New Testament, where many of Christ's lessons are told in parable form. The biblical tone is underscored by Steinbeck's mention in the preface of the struggle between good and evil.
Also, like the Bible (and traditional folktales), The Pearl contains little dialogue. The characters speak infrequently, but their thoughts and feelings are made clear through Steinbeck's powerful descriptions. He excelled at selecting the exact word and correct turn of phrase-and his lack of dialogue emphasizes the quiet intensity and simple manner of his characters. Their nonverbal quality helps to reinforce their discomfort in the presence of the sophisticated doctor, priest, and pearl buyers, who are experts at using language.
The Pearl contains many scientific metaphors and similes-figures of speech used to compare one object with another in order to suggest a similarity between them. For example, the Indian village is compared to the habitat of a colonial animal.
POINT OF VIEW
The Pearl is told by a third-person narrator who stands outside the action and knows everything about the characters and their actions. The narrator is said to be omniscient, which means all-knowing. In the introduction and in the final passage of the novel, the narrator speaks of events that happened long ago and have become important through repetition: "And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man's mind."
For most of the novel, the narrator abandons the past and takes you directly into the present. This is the advantage of his omniscience: he can move back and forth, from past to present to future, whenever a different focus will help you understand his story. Perhaps the most gripping narrative in the present is the one where Kino attacks and kills the trackers. In this passage, you feel you are part of the action-as if you were standing next to Kino.
The movement from distant narration of the past to close-up narration that seems to recount the present may seem inconsistent. But remember that Steinbeck is trying to tell an old tale in the form of a novel. He needs a narrator who can communicate both the immediate action of the novel's plot and the universal nature of the tale (or parable).
The third-person narrative is also flexible in its focus on characters. It allows you to change perspectives and to judge the characters for their individual thoughts and actions. The thoughts and actions of characters are not filtered through the intelligence of one person, as in a first-person narration, but are presented reasonably objectively and with the wide-ranging facts available to an omniscient narrator.