In Praise of “The Pearl” and “The Lottery”

I love used book sales at libraries and wherever, sometimes even at rummage sales.  At our local library once or twice a year there is a surplus book sale for 4 days; the books are a buck or two each for the first 3 days, but on Sunday you can get a whole shopping bag of books for a whopping total of two dollars.  I can usually fit about 20 books in there.  It’s usually easy pickings, since most people gravitate to crap and miss the good stuff.  I like to browse used book stores also, but don’t buy as much there, since I don’t consider 7 dollars to be a bargain price for a book, 2 or 3 yes, but not 7 (although I did get a book of Ellen Gilchrist stories there for a buck, and am glad I found her).

The library sale is where I got these 2 gems:  “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck, and “More Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children”, a collection of poems and stories.  One story in there, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, was one that I remember reading in middle school.  It’s set in early America and involves an entire small town drawing slips of paper out of a box to see who gets sacrificed to the harvest gods.  I often think of things like that when people want to win the lottery, like the fact that they have a nice spouse and kids, or that their cancer was caught at stage 1, or some such good luck; I tell ’em they’ve already won the lottery.  Some people, like “Tessie” (apparently they were all named “Goody” or “Tessie” in those days, and of course Tessie was the one who showed up late and was the most nervous) in “The Lottery”, win what I call “the bad lottery”, where you get stoned to death or get stage 4 cancer.

Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” is a slim little cautionary tale, apparently based on an old Mexican legend where a pearl diver finds a pearl big enough to retire on, but everything just goes to hell after that.  The pearl brings evil down on his family and disrupts what was a happy little existence.  Notable is the doctor, who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever; he preys upon the fears and ignorance of the people for his profit.  Things haven’t changed much there I guess, though of course we have many, many heroes in the medical field today.  One could think of “The Pearl” as a written version of the TV show “Lottery Changed my Life”, without the commercials, and without the recreational vehicles and the dirt bike paths in the backyard and the bronze statues that the winners never even thought of buying before they won.  The pearl diver mainly wanted to use his money to buy a good education for his son, but in the end, of course…., well, you’ll just have to read it yourself–might take you 2 hours at most.  Let’s just say it’s not a good ending.

Of course, I’d like to win the “good lottery”; who wouldn’t?  It’d be fun to have a really nice house with an indoor pool.  It’d be fun to anonymously help people who were down and out–I would do that for purely selfish reasons: because it would make me feel good to sit and imagine how relieved they were that some great financial burden had been lifted.  It’d be nice to travel; I’d like to go see Victoria Falls, and giraffes not cooped up in a pen, and the harbor at Rio, and that area with the funny-shaped rocks in southern China, and the rock of Gibraltar, and Stonehenge, and of course the Pyranees; I have had an idea at times that I’m supposed to die in the Pyranees.  I’m not sure if I dreamed that, or just saw something about them on TV and assumed that would happen for some reason.  (Even if I could afford to go there tomorrow, I think I’ll hold off for a while on that particular trip, you know, just in case).  Of course I’d like a place in the country, far away from a hog confinement or big dairy operation though, with a small horse pasture.  Not big on riding horses; I just love to watch them graze and move around.

I’m not real religious, but I do think it’s kind of evil to just want to be instantly rich in that way, by winning the lottery or whatever.  A person should really use hard work and talent to get rich, not exploitation or a lottery ticket.  Of course, anyone walking around in their underwear in front of their webcam on their website “mewalkingaroundinmyundies dot com” is perfectly legitimate also.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy a Powerball ticket; I need the money for a new bookshelf.

Like the Flying Lizards version, but let’s go for the original money:

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12 Responses to In Praise of “The Pearl” and “The Lottery”

  1. I’m with you on most of this: I guess I have won the lottery already. At the moment I’m too financially poor to think $7 is a good price for a book. I dream about gentle and comforting ways to spend my future lottery winnings. And I like The Flying Lizards’ version, too.

    I just have this library book phobia… I’ve been trying to get over it, but since somebody got hold of my library card (or the library made a very big mistake) they wouldn’t let me take out a book even if I wanted to. Some day I’ll have enough money to just consider it a donation, pay them and try again, but I won’t hold my breath until then.

    A long time ago I did read a library book about a nuclear holocaust and how plain, suburban folk were trying to get along in the desolate aftermath. It was written in the early fifties by a woman, and it blew my mind. I wish I could remember its name.

    • Sorry I’m chuckling, but I can’t imagine being banned by the library. That sucks. I hope you can get back in. I check out books and forget to read them. I do most of my reading late at night and sometimes I’m too tired to read anything. So I have so many used books, new books, and library books on the headboard that they’re spilling off, and it’s hard to pick one over the other when I’m done with one, or I start several. (Then I take the books back late)
      I was all ready to say that your holocaust book was “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute, but this sounds different and of course not written by a man.

      • Do you suppose the book was “The Last Day: A Novel of the Day after Tomorrow” by Helen Clarkson?

      • I must have been awfully tired when I left that first comment, because I forgot about internet research! I just found the title and author of that book — “Shadow on the Hearth” by Judith Merril. This was her first novel and it turns out that she became a respected author of sci-fi. I found a website that seems to be run by her estate, if you’re interested in some info on her and her work: Thanks for asking, TTD. You reminded me to look.

  2. Love SJ’s Lottery. Love how you don’t’ really see what’s coming until the end, and then it’s just so horrible, little kids with pebbles and grins, ugh! So good. I don’t play the lottery but J does, and we really enjoy talking about what we’re going to do with the money– just try to talk when we’re not with the kids, because it feels just wrong to tout the joys of stupid gambling in front of them. But for J and I, it’s very fun– more fun than couples’ therapy and much, much cheaper.

    • Oh, I love to think, and plan, about what I’m going to do with my big lottery win. I bought a computer once with a casino win. I suppose that’s as close as I’ll ever get to the “lottery big time”. Basic simple PCs were more expensive then, so it was fun handing over 9 one-hundred dollar bills; I think I even told them about my casino win so they wouldn’t think I was a coke dealer or something. I had driven out of town about an hour to the casino where I won, then directly past the town I live in to a bigger one to buy the computer, so that was fun at the time. We had, back in the 90s, a lady in our state who won several hundred thousands in some lottery, where there was a disputed ticket involved, I believe. Her first purchase was a used double wide mobile home. So my big joke has always been that, especially if I win “the big one”, I’ll tell everyone I’m going to buy a double-wide trailer. A USED double-wide.

  3. gregoryno6 says:

    I read The Lottery after Stephen King mentioned it in Danse Macabre. As I recall it had a very matter of fact tone, which worked very well against the ghastly conclusion.

    • It was very matter of fact. I like to think that I always knew it was Tessie who was going to “win”, but it’s been so long since I first read it, and have re-read it so many times, that I can’t really say. But now it seems glaringly obvious, that she will be the one picked, because she is so nervously late. It almost makes me want to not be late for work all the time. Almost.

  4. Anne Schilde says:

    I love the ending of The Pearl; Kino’s image is so perfectly etched in my imagination. Steinbeck was awesome!

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