Mar 13, 2014

The Pearl: Nude Pearl Divers in Junior High English Class

When I was in high school and college, professors mostly ignored John Steinbeck (1902-1968). He wasn't from the Midwest, his stories were mostly set in California, and besides, he wrote screenplays, which made him a hack -- great writers must never even acknowledge the existence of movies or, far worse, television.

Once in a story by Eudora Welty, a child sings "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man."  With a voice of the utmost disdain, the professor told us: This is a reference to an animated cartoon of the period.  It symbolizes the artistic sterility of their lives."

So the only Steinbeck novel that I've read is The Pearl (1947), a requirement for Miss Dunn's seventh grade English class.

I hated it!  Everybody in my class hated it.  I haven't asked a lot of people since, but everyone I've asked hated it.

The plot is atrocious: A poor Mexican pearl diver, Kimo, finds a pearl that causes nothing but trouble for him, his wife, and his infant son Coyotito.  He ends up killing several men, losing his house, and accidentally killing Coyotito.

Bummer.  Heterosexist bummer.

The only redeeming characteristic is the book jacket, which typically shows a half-naked, muscular Kimo. (In some interior illustartions, he even gets naked!)

I looked up the various film versions to see if they also display significant beefcake.

1. La perla (1947): with Pedro Armendariz as Kimo (renamed Quino).  Yes.

2. The Pearl (2001): Lukas Haas as Kimo. No.

Surprisingly, there have only been two.  I guess screenwriters also remember hating it in junior high.

I suggest buying a copy for the cover art and leaving the text alone.

Or skip it and go to the Pearl Fishers opera, which adds a gay subtext to the beefcake.

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