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  1. My Thoughts About The Pearl by John Steinbeck (Book Review #5)
  2. John Steinbeck
  3. The Pearl by John Steinbeck - Reading Guide: - Books

But no one can understand the mind of China today who has not read these novels, for the novels have shaped the present mind, too, and the folklore persists in spite of all that Chinese diplomats and Western-trained scholars would have us believe to the contrary. It creates ships of gold with masts of silver and white cities by the sea and rewards and faeries, and when that vast folk mind turns to politics it is ready to believe anything. Out of this folk mind, turned into stories and crowded with thousands of years of life, grew, literally, the Chinese novel.

For these novels changed as they grew. If, as I have said, there are no single names attached beyond question to the great novels of China, it is because no one hand wrote them.

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From beginning as a mere tale, a story grew through succeeding versions, into a structure built by many hands. It was then a tale of the simple supernatural whose hero was a great white snake. In the next version in the following century, the snake has become a vampire woman who is an evil force.

But the third version contains a more gentle and human touch. The vampire becomes a faithful wife who aids her husband and gives him a son. The story thus adds not only new character but new quality, and ends not as the supernatural tale it began but as a novel of human beings. So in early periods of Chinese history, many books must be called not so much novels as source books for novels, the sort of books into which Shakespeare, had they been open to him, might have dipped with both hands to bring up pebbles to make into jewels.

Many of these books have been lost, since they were not considered valuable. But not all — early stories of Han, written so vigorously that to this day it is said they run like galloping horses, and tales of the troubled dynasties following — not all were lost. Some have persisted. Most of these early stories had to do with supernatural events, of gods born of virgins, of men walking as gods, as the Buddhist influence grew strong.

There are miracles and allegories, such as the pens of poor scholars bursting into flower, dreams leading men and women into strange and fantastic lands of Gulliver, or the magic wand that floated an altar made of iron. But stories mirrored each age. The stories of Han were vigorous and dealt often with the affairs of the nation, and centered on some great man or hero. Humor was strong in this golden age, a racy, earthy, lusty humor, such as was to be found, for instance, in a book of tales entitled Siao Ling , presumed to have been collected, if not partly written, by Han Tang Suan.

And then the scenes changed, as that golden age faded, though it was never to be forgotten, so that to this day the Chinese like to call themselves sons of Han.

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It is not surprising that most of these love stories deal not with love that ends in marriage or is contained in marriage, but with love outside the marriage relationship. Indeed, it is significant that when marriage is the theme the story nearly always ends in tragedy. So strong did this tendency become that officialdom grew alarmed at the popularity of such stories among the common people, and they were denounced as revolutionary and dangerous because it was thought they attacked that foundation of Chinese civilization, the family system.

They destroy themselves and others. They have ruined even emperors. I do not reproach you. Even children in China know the name of Chang Sen. There were many novels of a humorous and satirical nature and one curious type of story which concerned itself with cockfighting, an important pastime of that age and particularly in favor at court.

But time and the stream pass on.

It is as though for centuries the novel had been developing unnoticed and from deep roots among the people, spreading into trunk and branch and twig and leaf to burst into this flowering in the Yuan dynasty, when the young Mongols brought into the old country they had conquered their vigorous, hungry, untutored minds and demanded to be fed. I wish I could convey to you what these three novels mean and have meant to the Chinese people.

But I can think of nothing comparable to them in Western literature. They stand as completed monuments of that popular literature, if not of letters. They, too, were ignored by men of letters and banned by censors and damned in succeeding dynasties as dangerous, revolutionary, decadent. But they lived on, because people read them and told them as stories and sang them as songs and ballads and acted them as dramas, until at last grudgingly even the scholars were compelled to notice them and to begin to say they were not novels at all but allegories, and if they were allegories perhaps then they could be looked upon as literature after all, though the people paid no heed to such theories and never read the long treatises which scholars wrote to prove them.

They rejoiced in the novels they had made as novels and for no purpose except for joy in story and in story through which they could express themselves. And indeed the people had made them. Shui Hu Chuan , though the modern versions carry the name of Shi Nai An as author, was written by no one man. Out of a handful of tales centering in the Sung dynasty about a band of robbers there grew this great, structured novel. Its beginnings were in history. The original lair which the robbers held still exists in Shantung, or did until very recent times. Those times of the thirteenth century of our Western era were, in China, sadly distorted.

The dynasty under the emperor Huei Chung was falling into decadence and disorder. The rich grew richer and the poor poorer and when none other came forth to set this right, these righteous robbers came forth. I cannot here tell you fully of the long growth of this novel, nor of its changes at many hands. Shih Nai An, it is said, found it in rude form in an old book shop and took it home and rewrote it. After him the story was still told and re-told. Five or six versions of it today have importance, one with a hundred chapters entitled Chung I Shui Hu , one of a hundred and twenty-seven chapters, and one of a hundred chapters.

My Thoughts About The Pearl by John Steinbeck (Book Review #5)

The original version attributed to Shih Nai An, had a hundred and twenty chapters, but the one most used today has only seventy. There is also a version written under official command, when officials found that nothing could keep the people from reading Shui Hu. But the common people of China are nothing if not independent. They have never adopted the official version, and their own form of the novel still stands.

It is a struggle they know all too well, the struggle of everyday people against a corrupt officialdom. I might add that Shui Hu Chuan is in partial translation in French under the title Les Chevaliers Chinois , and the seventy-chapter version is in complete English translation by myself under the title All Men Are Brothers.

To Chinese the words invoke instant century-old memory, but not to us. This novel has survived everything and in this new day in China has taken on an added significance. The Chinese Communists have printed their own edition of it with a preface by a famous Communist and have issued it anew as the first Communist literature of China. It is as true today as it was dynasties ago. The people of China still march across its pages, priests and courtesans, merchants and scholars, women good and bad, old and young, and even naughty little boys.

John Steinbeck

The only figure lacking is that of the modern scholar trained in the West, holding his Ph. But be sure that if he had been alive in China when the final hand laid down the brush upon the pages of that book, he, too, would have been there in all the pathos and humor of his new learning, so often useless and inadequate and laid like a patch too small upon an old robe.

For if Shui Hu Chuan is the great social document of Chinese life, Sa Kuo is the document of wars and statesmanship, and in its turn Hung Lou Meng is the document of family life and human love. The history of the San Kuo or Three Kingdoms shows the same architectural structure and the same doubtful authorship as Shui Hu. The story begins with three friends swearing eternal brotherhood in the Han dynasty and ends ninety-seven years later in the succeeding period of the Six Dynasties.

But this is a Chinese Baconand-Shakespeare controversy which has no end. Lo Kuan Chung was born in the late Yuan dynasty and lived on into the Ming. He wrote many dramas, but he is more famous for his novels, of which San Kuo is easily the best. He changed, added and omitted material, as for example when he added the story of Suan Fu Ren, the wife of one of the chief characters.

He altered even the style. If Shui Hu Chuan has importance today as a novel of the people in their struggle for liberty, San Kuo has importance because it gives in such detail the science and art of war as the Chinese conceive it, so differently, too, from our own.

It is these ancient tactics of war which the guerillas trust today. What a warrior must be and how he must attack and retreat, how retreat when the enemy advances, how advance when the enemy retreats — all this had its source in this novel, so well known to every common man and boy of China.

He never finished his novel, and the last forty chapters were added by another man, probably named Kao O. The story is simple in its theme but complex in implication, in character study and in its portrayal of human emotions. It is almost a pathological study, this story of a great house, once wealthy and high in imperial favor, so that indeed one of its members was an imperial concubine. But the great days are over when the book begins. The family is already declining. This novel seized hold of the people primarily because it portrayed the problems of their own family system, the absolute power of women in the home, the too great power of the matriarchy, the grandmother, the mother, and even the bondmaids, so often young and beautiful and fatally dependent, who became too frequently the playthings of the sons of the house and ruined them and were ruined by them.

Women reigned supreme in the Chinese house, and because they were wholly confined in its walls and often illiterate, they ruled to the hurt of all. They kept men children, and protected them from hardship and effort when they should not have been so protected. I cannot tell you to what lengths of allegory scholars went to explain away this novel when they found that again even the emperor was reading it and that its influence was so great everywhere among the people.

I do not doubt that they were probably reading it themselves in secret. A great many popular jokes in China have to do with scholars reading novels privately and publicly pretending never to have heard of them. The very name Chia signified, they said, falseness. But this was a farfetched explanation of what was written as a novel and stands as a novel and as such a powerful delineation, in the characteristic Chinese mixture of realism and romance, of a proud and powerful family in decline. Crowded with men and women of the several generations accustomed to living under one roof in China, it stands alone as an intimate description of that life.

In so emphasizing these three novels, I have merely done what the Chinese themselves do. I might mention Feng Shen Chuan , the story of a deified warrior, the author unknown but said to be a writer in the time of Ming. I must mention Ru Ling Wai Shi , a satire upon the evils of the Tsing dynasty, particularly of the scholars, full of a double-edged though not malicious dialogue, rich with incident, pathetic and humorous.

The fun here is made of the scholars who can do nothing practical, who are lost in the world of useful everyday things, who are so bound by convention that nothing original can come from them. The book, though long, has no central character. And there is Yea Shou Pei Yin , or An Old Hermit Talks in the Sun , written by a famous man disappointed in official preferment, Shia of Kiang-yin, and there is that strangest of books, Ching Hua Yuen , a fantasy of women, whose ruler was an empress, whose scholars were all women. It is designed to show that the wisdom of women is equal to that of men, although I must acknowledge that the book ends with a war between men and women in which the men are triumphant and the empress is supplanted by an emperor.

But I can mention only a small fraction of the hundreds of novels which delight the common people of China. Into these novels they have put the generations of their being and to refresh that being they return to these novels again and again, and out of them they have made new songs and plays and other novels. But the important thing for me today is not the listing of novels. The aspect which I wish to stress is that all this profound and indeed sublime development of the imagination of a great democratic people was never in its own time and country called literature.

No, the people of China forged their own literature apart from letters. And today this is what lives, to be part of what is to come, and all the formal literature, which was called art, is dead. The plots of these novels are often incomplete, the love interest is often not brought to solution, heroines are often not beautiful and heroes often are not brave. Nor has the story always an end; sometimes it merely stops, in the way life does, in the middle of it when death is not expected. In this tradition of the novel have I been born and reared as a writer.

My ambition, therefore, has not been trained toward the beauty of letters or the grace of art. It is, I believe, a sound teaching and, as I have said, illuminating for the novels of the West. For here is the essence of the attitude of Chinese novelists — perhaps the result of the contempt in which they were held by those who considered themselves the priests of art. I put it thus in my own words, for none of them has done so.

The instinct which creates the arts is not the same as that which produces art. The creative instinct is, in its final analysis and in its simplest terms, an enormous extra vitality, a super-energy, born inexplicably in an individual, a vitality great beyond all the needs of his own living — an energy which no single life can consume. This energy consumes itself then in creating more life, in the form of music, painting, writing, or whatever is its most natural medium of expression. It is a process proceeding from within.

It is the heightened activity of every cell of his being, which sweeps not only himself, but all human life about him, or in him, in his dreams, into the circle of its activity. From the product of this activity, art is deducted — but not by him. The process which creates is not the process which deduces the shapes of art. The defining of art, therefore, is a secondary and not a primary process. And when one born for the primary process of creation, as the novelist is, concerns himself with the secondary process, his activity becomes meaningless.

When he begins to make shapes and styles and techniques and new schools, then he is like a ship stranded upon a reef whose propeller, whirl wildly as it will, cannot drive the ship onward. Not until the ship is in its element again can it regain its course. And for the novelist the only element is human life as he finds it in himself or outside himself. The sole test of his work is whether or not his energy is producing more of that life. Are his creatures alive? That is the only question. And who can tell him? Who but those living human beings, the people?

Those people are not absorbed in what art is or how it is made-are not, indeed, absorbed in anything very lofty, however good it is.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck - Reading Guide: - Books

No, they are absorbed only in themselves, in their own hungers and despairs and joys and above all, perhaps, in their own dreams. These are the ones who can really judge the work of the novelist, for they judge by that single test of reality. And the standard of the test is not to be made by the device of art, but by the simple comparison of the reality of what they read, to their own reality. I have been taught, therefore, that though the novelist may see art as cool and perfect shapes, he may only admire them as he admires marble statues standing aloof in a quiet and remote gallery; for his place is not with them.

His place is in the street. He is happiest there. The street is noisy and the men and women are not perfect in the technique of their expression as the statues are. They are ugly and imperfect, incomplete even as human beings, and where they come from and where they go cannot be known. But they are people and therefore infinitely to be preferred to those who stand upon the pedestals of art. And like the Chinese novelist, I have been taught to want to write for these people. If they are reading their magazines by the million, then I want my stories there rather than in magazines read only by a few.

For story belongs to the people. They are sounder judges of it than anyone else, for their senses are unspoiled and their emotions are free. No, a novelist must not think of pure literature as his goal. He must not even know this field too well, because people, who are his material, are not there. He is a storyteller in a village tent, and by his stories he entices people into his tent. He need not raise his voice when a scholar passes.

But he must beat all his drums when a band of poor pilgrims pass on their way up the mountain in search of gods. He must be satisfied if the common people hear him gladly. At least, so I have been taught in China. But for the most part the old Chinese scholar reasoned thus about the novel: Literature is art. And so the novel in China was not literature. Please notify the publishers regarding corrections. Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page.

Kino himself is greedy when he refuses to dispose of the pearl that brings him danger. It seems that the pearl and material wealth in general brings out the greed in the people who seek it. Ambition is a characteristic that is innate in human nature. Moreover, one should not aim above or below their inherent position in society.

Kino lives in harmony with his family up until Coyotito is poisoned. It is clear that Kino would go to great lengths to cure Coyotito and when the opportunity arises he desires a better life for him and his family. However the pearl drives Kino crazy with greed and as a result he loses his blissful relationship with his wife and ultimately loses his son. That being said, the novel ends as Juana and Kino walk side by side as equal partners. From the start of the novel it appears that Kino lives in a natural and peaceful environment in harmony with his wife and child.

Kino has the false belief that the newfound material wealth could grant them more happiness. In the end the pearl costs Kino his harmonious life, his house, his canoe and his family. The moral of the story is that money cannot buy happiness. The pearl is a symbol of wealth which is quite ambivalent in its nature throughout the novel. When Kino first finds the pearl, it is a symbol of hope and salvation. The pearl and what it holds of wealth represents a great potential for the family and so their ambitions grow big. But like wealth, the pearl represents all the evil in the world.