The Theme of Broken Promises In Literature


Promises made must be delivered. The more something is promised and never delivered, the more expectations and standards are lowered. But something is expected if it is promised. Making promises and not delivering is like a student taking candy from a teacher with the expectation that they will behave. If they do not behave, the teacher is upset and out of candy. A lesson learned in “The Fisherman and His Wife”, retold by Clifton Johnson and “The Pearl”, by John Steinbeck, is disappointment comes from expecting something in return for a good deed.

In “The Fisherman and His Wife”, Alices’ arrogance led to her betrayal of others' benevolence; she paid for it with distress and sorrow. Alices’ avarice led her to the exploitation of the other characters. “‘No,’ said she, ‘I am very uneasy, and cannot bear to see the sun and moon rise without my leave. Go to the fish at once!’” “Then the fish came swimming to him and said, ‘What more does she want?’ ‘she wants to be lord of the sun and moon.’ ‘Go home to your hut again,’ said the fish.” (Johnson 57)

Again and again, Alice manipulated and misused the benevolence given to get her way. Requesting to be lord of the sun and moon was what led to Alices’ demise, she was taking advantage of her husband. At Alices’ beck and call, her husband does her bidding once more. “‘Go to the fish at once!’”(Johnson 57) As expected from his wife, he returns to the fish, who has granted Alice with her every wish. Whatever she insisted on having was handed directly to her. However this time Alices’ demands were not met with hospitality, she was reprimanded for her greediness. “‘Go home to your hut again,’”(Johnson 57) Taking control of the situation the fish left Alice with nothing but misery and agony. In the end due to her avaristic actions,  Alice abused everyone’s kind actions, left with only immense pain. 

In “The Pearl”, by John Steinbeck, Kinos’ possessive manner towards the pearl made Juana the victim of his displaced aggression.  “Quietly he tracked her, and his brain was red with anger. She burst clear out of the brush line and stumbled over the little boulders toward the water, and then she heard him coming and she broke into a run. Her arm was up to throw when he leaped at her and caught her arm and wrenched the pearl from her. He struck her in the face with his clenched fist and she fell among the boulders, and he kicked her in the side… Kino looked down at her and his teeth were bared. He hissed at her like a snake. (Chapter 5)

Juana attempted to get rid of the pearl because it has brought so much misfortune. Unbeknownst to Juana, Kino was unconsciously falling further and further into the darkness of his obsession. “...caught her arm and wrenched the pearl from her.” (Chapter 5)  Kinos’ main concern is the pearl, so much so, he was violent towards Juana.  As said in previous chapters the pearl was now part of his soul. “He struck her in the face with his clenched fist”. (Chapter 5)  Juana was so hurt and discouraged by Kino’s act of anger, yet she still held no malice towards him. This helped Juana realize just how infatuated he was towards the pearl. Being that wives played a submissive role in the household during this time, most can see why Juana was so tolerant of Kinos' actions. Though she continued to play that role till the end, it did not stop her from being disheartened by it. 

Counting on any sort of compensation or reward in return for an act of goodwill or generosity can lead to sorrow and misfortune, a lesson taught in “The Fisherman and His Wife”, retold by Clifton Johnson and “The Pearl”, by John Steinbeck. Usually, when two people enter marriage, it's a long-term unspoken agreement between the two. Neither will intentionally physically, emotionally, and or mentally harm the other.  However Alice and Kino have broken that silent exchange. They both distinctly yet similarly hurt their partner. That unspoken agreement was more of a promise between the two, therefore their partners expected more or better from them. In the end their expectations let them down. In certain cases, it is better to deliver, but not expect, unrealistic anticipations could be detrimental.

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