Theme of Materialism and Its Negative Consequences in John Steinbeck's Novel ‘The Pearl’: Critical Essay

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The more highly people endorse materialistic values, the more they experience unpleasant emotions, depression, and anxiety. The novel ‘The Pearl’, written by John Steinbeck in 1944, follows an allegory that poignantly and succinctly teaches the reader about the negative consequences of materialism. ‘The Pearl’ is about a Mexican Indian pearl diver named Kino who finds a valuable pearl and is transformed by the evil it attracts. When the townsfolk of La Paz learn of Kino’s find, he is immediately set upon by a greedy priest, a doctor, and businessmen. Through his protagonist, Kino, Steinbeck positions the audience to consider the concept of being overly materialistic and the drastic implications these can have. He specifically explores this ideology through the negative impact the ‘pearl’ has on Kino’s character, the destruction of his familial relationships, and finally the effects on the wider community.

Firstly, and most importantly, Kino’s relationship with the pearl throughout the novel has had a negative effect on his own personal character. At the beginning of the novel, Kino shows his love and dedication towards his family entirely through his calm and tranquil nature. As the novel goes on, he starts to focus more on what the pearl can do for his family and himself. Kino then becomes so obsessed with the pearl to the point that he neglects his family duties. In the first chapter of the novel, Juana comes back to the fire and eats her breakfast next to Kino. “They had spoken once, but there is no need for speech if it is only a habit anyway. Kino sighed with satisfaction – and that was conversation”. These words paint the lifestyle of Kino and Juana as unembellished and quiet. This scene depicts Kino as simple and wholesome, but after finding the pearl, things start to change. Then in the fifth chapter, after Kino has found the pearl, it is evident that his personal traits of being a family man change. “This pearl has become my soul... If I give it up, I shall lose my soul”. These words uttered by Kino reveal his love for the pearl and the materiality and greed that comes with it. Kino is beginning to forget about his loving family, as all he cares about now is money. These two pieces of evidence support the thesis of Kino’s over-materialistic nature, which leads to the relationship breakage of his family.

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Secondly, Kino has become so fed up with the pearl that it starts to destruct his familiar relationships completely. Kino has become so self-obsessed with the pearl that his calm and nurturing nature flies out the window. Juana, Kino’s wife, is aware of the dangers that revolve around the pearl and how it is starting to destroy their lives. Juana asks him to throw it away because she knows her family is the only real ‘good fortune’. Kino ignores his wife’s orders, and as Juana takes the pearl to throw it back into the sea, Kino switches sides. He “[strikes] her in the face with his clenched fist and she [falls] among the boulders, and he [kicks] her in the side”. The pearl has officially overruled Kino’s calm, loving personality by revealing the evil within. Kino is beginning to abandon his family, Juana can see the “murder in him”, and once Kino does murder, she is aware that “the old life [is] gone forever”. Unable to let go of the pearl, Kino takes his family into the harsh desert where their baby is killed. “Kino stood uncertainly. Something was wrong, some signal was trying to get through to his brain. Tree frogs and cicadas were silent now. And then Kino's brain cleared from its red concentration and he knew the sound – the keening, moaning, rising hysterical cry from the little cave in the side of the stone mountain, the cry of death”. The sounds of the animals are silenced when Coyotito dies. It is as though the natural world recognizes the tragedy that has just occurred and is responding to it. Steinbeck uses imagery when describing the tree frogs and cicadas’ silence, it positions the reader to have empathy towards Kino, even though he has abandoned his family and taken on an overly materialistic lifestyle.

This sensitive and thought-provoking novella forces the discerning reader to rethink their own relationship towards material goods and to reflect upon what is most valuable to them.

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Theme of Materialism and Its Negative Consequences in John Steinbeck’s Novel ‘The Pearl’: Critical Essay. (2023, October 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“Theme of Materialism and Its Negative Consequences in John Steinbeck’s Novel ‘The Pearl’: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 26 Oct. 2023,
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