By Benjamin Davis’26
“Ignorance is bliss.” One of the core premier proverbs, this idea of “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” is the overarching theme throughout The Pearl. The novella tells the chilling epic of Kino, an impoverished but beloved fisherman. Being a member of an oppressed indigenous caste that is at the total mercy of European colonizers, he lives in a coastal shack with his wife and infant. He makes a wage by hunting for the titular baubles, albeit with volatility. As a matter of fact, this appears to be a traditional practice by all of the local aborigines, established in response to the incoming outsiders and their economy.
One day, Kino unearths such a brilliant sphere of enormous size, which comes to be known village-wide as the “Pearl of the World.” However, he and his family soon discover that what appears to be a blessing comes with a methodical curse. The whites covet the aquatic treasures and repeatedly manipulate the natives to reap the fruits of their labor. As such, these aristocrats are willing to go to great lengths to acquire Kino’s wondrous find, unbothered by morality and honor alike. The continuous coercion is further aggravated by the unveiling of the systematic tyranny taking place.
The Pearl of the World is a grim correlate to any sort of unprecedented advantage that a second-class citizen possesses or comes to possess. For a proletariat in any culture, any outstandingness makes one a target, which Kino discovers the hard way. Steinbeck, the book’s author, effectively argues that any minority stratum is simply set up for defeat, even when a member of such a group wins a watershed lottery.
Eventually, the tale begs the question: would one be better off had they not found the pearl? According to Steinbeck, yes – and, more so, if they had not known about it in the first place. A sustained, predictable person is objectively a successful person despite potential corruption. This directly pertains to today’s society, where general echelons are maintained throughout generations – not just in third-world countries. The ever-present control elites hold on even the most developed of nations affects the vast majority of the population, slogans a message of mediocrity, and, in the end, ignorance is certainly bliss.