The Black Pearl (Scott O'Dell)

The Black Pearl (Scott O'Dell)

"The Black Pearl" is a young adult novel by Scott O'Dell first published in 1967 about the coming of age of the son of a pearl dealer living in the Lower California peninsula. It was a Newbery Honor book in 1968.

Plot summary

Set in the city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico at some unspecified time in the past, "The Black Pearl" centres on the alleged fortune of finding a very large and valuable pearl. At 16, Ramón Salazar is made a partner in his father's business but still forbidden the dangerous activity of diving for pearls. Among his father's employees, the best diver is Gaspar Ruiz ("The Sevillano"), a braggart who likes to tease Ramón by calling him a spoiled, inexperienced child.

Enraged by such insult, Ramón takes the first chance he gets to learn how to dive. When his father is away on business, he leaves the family home and becomes friends Soto Luzon, an Indian who lives on a secluded lagoon. He can convince Luzon to become his teacher, and Ramón turns out to be a quick learner. However, the Indian warns him of a certain underwater cave, where he believes the "Manta Diablo", a giant manta, lurks. According to the Indian, any pearl taken from there will prompt the Manta Diablo's rage, and the devilfish will pursue the thief until the pearl is returned. Ramón dismisses the warning as sheer superstition, and on the fourth day, inside the cave, is fortunate enough to pry open an oyster and extract a black pearl the size of a grapefruit—"the great Pearl of Heaven".

When he arrives back in La Paz, rumour spreads quickly, and after removing a slight flaw from the pearl, Ramón's father cannot resist showing it to the crowd which has gathered outside the Salazar home. Subsequently, however, the Salazars are unable to sell the pearl as none of the four other pearl dealers in town is willing, or able, to pay the price demanded by them. Furious, the older Salazar presents the pearl to Father Gallardo, who places it in the outstretched hand of the Madonna, a statue of the Virgin Mary sitting in a niche of the local church. In return, Father Gallardo bestows God's blessing on the Salazar pearling fleet.

Made reckless by the blessing, Ramón's father decides to set sail despite a gathering chubasco, and although known as a fine captain, he cannot save his fleet of five boats from being wrecked in the storm. He drowns together with his 30 men, with Gaspar Ruiz, the ablest swimmer, the only survivor.

Soto Luzon utters another warning and insists that the storm was brought on by the Manta Diablo who wants his pearl back, and Ramón now believes him. He steals the pearl with the intent to return it to the manta, but Gaspar Ruiz, armed with a knife, meets him at the lagoon and takes it from him, intending to make his own fortune. Ramón is compelled at knifepoint to paddle their boat to the city where the Sevillano wants to sell the pearl, but the manta follows them, to recover his pearl, as Ramón is convinced. The Sevillano laughs at his fears, and when the manta does attack them, he harpoons it, and ends up accidentally strapped to the manta when it eventually dives under. Both he and the manta die. Ramón stays in the area for a while to see if the Sevillano, known for his long dives, might reappear. When he does not, Ramón brings the pearl back to the church, feeling that only now has he finally become a man.

Film adaptation

In 1977, Saul Swimmer directed the U.S.-Spanish co-production "The Black Pearl" aka "La Perla Negra".

ee also

*Herman Melville: "Moby-Dick" (1851)
*John Steinbeck: "The Pearl" (1947) (also set among the pearl divers of La Paz)
*Ernest Hemingway: "The Old Man and the Sea" (1952) (aging Cuban fisherman struggling with a giant marlin)


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