"For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have."
I am currently teaching a junior/senior elective literature course. So far they have read Kindred by Octavia Butler, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and The Pearl by John Steinbeck. My seniors are done on Tuesday, so we are in the middle of prepping for their final exam. Since I taught the first three books, I figured I might as well read Steinbeck's novella to help them prepare. Thankfully I had a copy on my shelf, so I dove in the other night, determined to finish (because apparently I can only start books recently, not finish them).
When I told my students I was going to read the book so I could help them prepare better, they all told me, in varying ways, that the book was boring, stupid, and horrible. I was a little surprised, since most of them liked Of Mice and Men, which is part of the curriculum for the tenth grade classes. But, I know that sometimes you can like a book by an author and then hate another work.
I dove in with that in mind, and tried to keep that perspective in mind as I flew through the 90 page book. I think I am becoming more familiar with Steinbeck, but I was a bit taken aback by the tone in the book.
The Pearl is a retelling of a Mexican folktale. The focus is on a couple, Kino and Juana, who are down on their luck and struggling. They find a beautiful pearl worth more money than they can dream of...and their world crumbles apart. The book is very much one of those "moral" books. And I know that is exactly why my high school students hated it.
I personally can't stand books that preach too much, or that shove a lesson down your throat. That doesn't mean I don't seek those things out, because I do, but I don't like the lesson being flashed in front me on every other page. It drives me crazy.
And I can imagine that is what drove my students nuts as well. Steinbeck's tale certainly has an agenda-to remind us all that gaining wealth comes with consequences, and that sometimes if you dream too high, it will all come crashing down. And that message comes through loud and clear. That isn't to say the book is bad. It isn't. It still has the same voice of Steinbeck. There were passages that I absolutely loved, but the overall book didn't do it for me. But, I'll push through with my kids and help them study for the exam as best I can. :)
I've heard that a lot of people don't care for Steinbeck's shorter works. I haven't gotten to any of the big ones, like The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden, so I can't really weigh in. Let me know where you fall on the Steinbeck fan-scale.