Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


The purpose of this thesis is to show that John Steinbeck’s, The Pearl, can be read as an allegory reflecting Hinduistic beliefs. To support the feasibility of such an attempt, Steinbeck’s writings are briefly surveyed insofar as they represent his development from animism, through primitivism and pantheism, to non-teleological thinking, as supported by the quantum theory, and eventually into a Hinduistic concept of Being. Furthermore a topical study of The Pearl is presented to illustrate the archetypal symbols and the memory links which give The Pearl its universal appeal. The Pearl, published in 1947, is sometimes described, as it is on the cover of the Bantam Pathfinder edition of the book as: An enduring and classical fable sensitively told in simple and beautiful language. It is the story of a fisherman who found a pearl beyond price, the “Pearl of the World”. With the pearl, he hoped to buy peace and happiness for himself, his wife, and their little son. Instead, he found that peace and happiness are not to be purchased. They are, themselves, pearls beyond price. It is a timeless and unforgettable novel of men and women and good and evil. Such Steinbeck critics as Peter Lisca, F.W. Watt, John Fontenrose, and Warren French, however, discard the notion that it is a simple story of good and evil. Peter Lisca defends the novel as one of Steinbeck’s best; he discusses it as a beautiful myth of the Indian people of La Paz. F.W. Watt says it is important as a source in studying Steinbeck’s non-teleological thinking. Although Warren French calls it “the defective pearl” and points to it as representing the decline of Steinbeck as an author, he, nevertheless, in an uncomplimentary criticism, does point out some potential symbolism and describes it as an unfinished allegory. John Fontenrose closely relates Steinbeck’s professed non-teleological thinking to the ideas in The Pearl, but he associates it with a defeatist attitude. Varied as these criticisms are, the authors of them all agree on one negative point; that is, that in the final analysis The Pearl ends with an aura, not of hope, but of failure. However, because John Steinbeck in 1947 is known to have been interested in Hinduism, and because the aforementioned non-teleological thinking does closely parallel Hinduism in its belief that individual units are part of the whole pulsing of life, it seems incongruous to believe that the book ends with a melodramatic gesture symbolic of fatalism. Instead it would be plausible to read The Pearl, in a framework of Hindu beliefs, as a consistent allegory of hope. If one considers the Hindu belief in the transmigration of souls, and also the belief that life and death are almost synonymous because death means only a reincarnation into a new form of life, then hope is not destroyed when Kino throws the pearl back into the sea; it is recreated. Therefore, using The Pearl and Steinbeck’s other works as primary sources, and criticisms and biographies about Steinbeck plus books on Hinduistic beliefs as secondary sources, it is hoped that The Pearl is, in this thesis, logically presented as a story of hope.


Marion Coulson

Date of Award

Spring 1965

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 1965 Avis Burnett


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