Common Problems in the 1940s in The Pearl by John Steinbeck

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American literature plays a vital role in society, providing entertainment while displaying themes that related to common problems during the 1940s. One of the novels that reflects some of these major problems is The Pearl, written by John Steinbeck. This novel is based on a story that Steinbeck heard on his trip to La Paz, Mexico in 1940. He describes this story in his book, The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck tries to show the difficulties that many people faced in Mexico. In particular, The Pearl examines the social and cultural inequalities between the Mexicans and the Europeans, illustrates how longing for materialistic goods can result in destruction, and demonstrates how a man’s actions can influence his family’s dreams.
A major theme displayed in Steinbeck’s novel is the difference between the standard of living for Mexicans and that for Europeans. The Mexican people of La Paz are very poor, most of them living in brush houses that contained only one room (Ariki). In Kino’s hut, the single room is used as the kitchen, the bedroom, and Coyotito’s nursery (Johnson 181). Their poverty is further displayed by the dirt floor covered with ants and other insects (Johnson). “He slipped his feet into his sandals and went outside to watch the dawn” describes his morning routine (Steinbeck 3). Kino’s daily breakfast consisted of corncakes and pulque, which is an alcoholic drink (Johnson 182). Since the Mexicans can’t afford utensils, they have to use their hands to eat their food. This is ironic because the Mexicans were the ones who worked the hardest for their living (Johnson 181). Around midday, Kino and the others would go to the sea in their canoes and dive for pearls. Since this was their family’s only source of income, t...

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... at a high price. For instance, by buying a rifle, Kino can show that he has the same goods that the rich have, and so could limit the difference between the two social classes (Johnson 184). However, Kino and Juana have one main dream, and that is to give Coyotito an education. This is important at that time because it would remove the family’s ignorance, and Coyotito would be able to survive in the changing world using that knowledge (Johnson 184).
The Pearl plays an important role in redefining American literature for this time period, and it shows problems that remained an issue for a long time. There were social and cultural inequalities displayed throughout this novel that described the living conditions of the Mexicans around the 1940s. It can also show how hard it is to chase dreams when they are motivated by greed, and can ultimately lead to destruction.

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