Ever since Midas’ lust for gold, it appears that man has acquired a greed and appetite for wealth. Juana, the Priest, and the doctor in John Steinbeck’s novel “The Pearl” have all undergone a change due to money. They are all affected by their hunger for wealth and in turn are the base for their own destruction, and the destruction of society. Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” is a study of man’s self-destruction through greed.
Juana, the faithful wife of Kino, a paltry peasant man, had lived a spiritual life for what had seemed like as long as she could remember. When her son Coyotito fell ill from the bite of a scorpion, she eagerly turned towards the spiritual aspects of life, beginning to pray for her son’s endangered life. The doctor, who had resided in the upper-class section of the town, refused to assist the child, turning them away when they arrived at the door. Lastly, they turned to the sea to seek their fortune. When Juana set sight on the “Pearl of The World,” she felt as though all her prayers had been answered. If she could have foreseen the future, what she would have seen would have been a mirror of her reality. Juana’s husband was caught in a twisted realm of mirrors, and they were all shattering one by one. In the night he heard a “sound so soft that it might have been simply a thought…” (Pg. 48) and quickly attacked the trespasser. This is where the problems for Juana and her family began. The fear that had mounted in Kino’s body had taken control over his actions. Soon even Juana, who had always had faith in her husband, doubted his motives greatly. “It will destroy us all,” (Pg.50) she cried as her attempt to rid the family of the pearl had failed. Kino had not listened, however, and soon Juana began to lose her spiritual side and for a long time she had forgotten her prayers that had once meant so much to her. She had tried to help Kino before too much trouble had aroused, only to discover that she was not competent enough to help.
A Hippocratic oath is said before each medical student is granted a doctorate. In the oath, they swear to aid the ill, and cure the injured. “Above all else, do no harm” is its primary promise. In the village of La Paz, there lived a doctor who had earned his wealth by helping those that were ill and could afford his services. Not once in his long career would he have dared refuse to aid a wealthy lawyer or noblemen. However, when Kino and the group of money hungry peasants arrived at his door with a poisoned child, he had refused them entry, saying “Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for ‘little Indians’? I am a doctor, not a veterinary.” (Pg. 14) The doctor had known that the peasants didn’t have any money. He had been to Paris and had enjoyed the splendors of the world, and therefore he wouldn’t be seen dealing with the less fortunate, as he knew that the less fortunate would surely always be just that – less fortunate. However, it seemed that he had been stereotypical of the less fortunate, as he soon discovered when hearing of a great pearl discovered by the peasants who had knocked upon his door earlier that day. A hunger for wealth was what pushed him to visit the peasants’ house and aid their destitute son. “The news came to the doctor where he sat with a woman whose illness was age, though neither she nor the doctor would admit it. And when it was made plain who Kino was, the doctor grew stern and judicious at the same time. He is a client of mine,’ the doctor said.” (Pg. 28) However, he had already ended Coyotito’s life without knowing he’d done so, for if he had administered aid to Coyotito when they were first at the doctors door, Kino would not have had reason to seek his fortune in the ocean, and would not be led down the road to hardships. One might think that a doctor, one who has the image of being passive and caring, should not stoop to such a level.
When someone is down on their luck, chances are they will turn to superstition in hope to acquire that that they wish for most. In La Paz, the peasants were uneducated and probably had never heard of a superstition. The peasants’ only reliability, their only scapegoat was God. God had always been their to aid them in their times of need. The first reaction of Juana when seeing the scorpion is a good example of spirituality; rather than attempt to kill the scorpion, she began to pray to God for safety. “Under her breath Juana repeated an ancient magic to guard against such evil, and on top of that she muttered a Hail Mary between clenched teeth.” (Pg. 6)
In La Paz, the only form of God that the peasants knew was that of the Priest of the church. To the peasants, the Priest was so God-like that they were unable to see any faults in his actions. However, the reader is able to determine that the Priest is abusing his position in society. In order to receive the sacraments the person requesting the sacrament must “donate” a small amount of money to the church. Whether this is correct or not is a matter of opinion. The church may need funding and the peasants may be unable to provide this money, but does that make them unworthy to receive the sacraments should they want to acquire them? The Priest is so set on achieving money and social status that he puts aside the real reason one becomes a Priest- to help, and to teach the word of God. “I hope thou wilt remember to give thanks, my son, to Him who has given thee this treasure, and to pray for guidance in the future.” (Pg. 36)
In “The Pearl”, Steinbeck expresses the fact that man’s manifestation for wealth and property leads to the self-destruction of man, both mentally, and physically. The Priest of La Paz, the doctor, and Kino’s family were all affected by greed. Whether they are striving for wealth or are in the path of those that are, they are all equally affected. The story of Midas lives on as a caution to those who crave the warmth and comfort of money, beckoning to those who struggle to achieve wealth, and hoping that they will respond, and possibly not put wealth on the top shelf of life.