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  • The Song of The Pearl: An Essay About Steinbeck's Short Novel, The Pearl by Wesley W. Stillwagon
  • Robert DeMott (bio)
The Song of The Pearl: An Essay About Steinbeck's Short Novel, The Pearl by Wesley W. Stillwagon Self-published. 47 pp. $12.75 paper.

Steinbeckians beware! Save your money! This turgidly written, stylistically sloppy, editorially challenged, and inadequately researched "book" should be consulted only as an example of what not to do when writing about John Steinbeck.

According to Stillwagon's bio-blurb at the occult Find Astrologer website, he is, besides being a Humanistic Astrologer with particular interest in the work of Swiss analytical psychiatrist Carl Jung, also a former industrial/corporate Training Manager and Instructional Designer, and a self-proclaimed "published Steinbeck Scholar." His bio statement at the beginning of this little booklet states that he is a "Steinbeck/Ricketts Scholar and has many publications regarding training management and the work of John Steinbeck." Besides this extended essay I was only able to find a couple of his other Steinbeck-related publications—one was an extremely hostile review of Susan Shillinglaw's Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage (2013); the other was an internet publication of an essay presentation called "Steinbeck, Ricketts, Jung" that he delivered at the Monterey Peninsula Friends of C. G. Jung in 2005. There might be a few others as well, but that was all I could determine with certainty. Whether those accomplishments qualify for notable ranking as a "Steinbeck Scholar" strikes me as questionable. (I know graduate students who have written more and better on Steinbeck who would not presume to call themselves Steinbeck Scholars, but that is another matter). Some of the URL [End Page 94] links Stillwagon mentioned—notably his website at and are no longer active so accurate appraisal is not possible.

There is a germ of a good idea in his booklet: The Song of The Pearl functions as a metaphor or vehicle for a whole series of intangible, thematic, or narrative qualities and possibilities associated with the fated gem that protagonist Kino finds. The Great Tidepool in Cannery Row, Timshel in East of Eden, and Ethan Allen Hawley's talisman in The Winter of Our Discontent operate similarly as palimpsests, touchstones of meaning, foundations for interior questing and song-line plots. The Pearl of the World's song, Stillwagon asserts, implies "something greater than a single musical note, chord, or phrase." It refers instead to "a streaming complex of feeling tones—a melody or song" (iv). This is a potentially useful insight but somewhat limited and if it were presented in conjunction with the parallel drama of the Song of the Family, might have led to a worthwhile discussion and exploration of Steinbeck's often neglected 1947 novella.

Instead, the author devotes the bulk of his pages applying Jungian psychology, steamroller fashion, to Steinbeck's little book and he flattens it. The complex, multilevel reading experience The Pearl offers is almost entirely obliterated, as is any sense of its internal music and the cadence of Steinbeck's prose. Here is a statement that represents Stillwagon's position and gives some flavor of his prose: "Based upon my reading (and re-reading) of The Pearl. I theorize that Kino was a fairly lowly evolved Introverted Intuitive Feeling type and here's why. His reactions to the Pearl of the World as expressed to his wife were about how it would impact the future. If he were an intuitive his time reference would be spread out over the future. If he were a sensation feeling type his thoughts would have been in the immediate. The senses operate in the immediate time frame. Intuition operates in a wider time frame" (14). What?

It goes on like that, page after page. In an essay supposedly about The Pearl, he quotes directly only seven lines from the third paragraph of the opening chapter of Steinbeck's book. Meantime, he quotes directly 203 lines from various Jung volumes. Some of the quoted material takes up as much as a full page and...


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pp. 94-97
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