Study Guide

The Priest in The Pearl

By John Steinbeck

The Priest

The priest may not be as bad as the doctor, but he’s pretty dang close. He seems to have as little regard for the natives, and his only potentially redeeming factor is be that he doesn’t physically harm anyone in his pursuit of the pearl’s wealth. (Wow. Give this dude a gold star, eh?) His attempt to flatter Kino and Juana is absurdly transparent and only mildly mitigated by the fact that he wants the money for his organization (the church) and not for personal gain:

But the priest was speaking again. "It has come to me that thou hast found a great fortune, a great pearl."

Kino opened his hand and held it out, and the priest gasped a little at the size and beauty of the pearl. And then he said, "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." (3.24 – 3.25)

But the kicker comes in Kino’s later conversation with Juan Tomás, when we learn that the priest has used religion as a tool of oppression against the natives of La Paz. His yearly sermon declares that "each man must remain faithful to his post and must not go running about, else the castle is in danger from the assaults of Hell." In other words: stay in your place. Don’t challenge the system of colonial oppression, and don’t try to better your lives—otherwise you’ll go to Hell. Low blow, isn’t it?

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