The Black Pearl Summary

Scott O'Dell

The Black Pearl

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Black Pearl Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell.

The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell is a short young adult novel. Winner of the Newbery Honor, it was published in 1967 and has since stood alongside O’Dell’s other works, including Island of the Blue Dolphins for which he received the Newbery Medal, as a classic. The Black Pearl is a coming-of-age story that follows 16-year old Ramon Salazar and his life in the city of La Paz on the Baja peninsula.

Ramon works in the pearl fishing industry alongside his father, Blas Salazar, who is one of the most famous pearl dealers in Baja California and runs a pearl business. Salazar’s best diver is Gaspar Ruiz, otherwise known as the ‘Sevillano.’ While an accomplished diver, the Sevillano is also something of a braggart and likes to tell Ramon of his adventures.

Eager to impress the Sevillano, Ramon convinces local pearl seller Soto Luzon to teach him how to dive for pearls in the nearby lagoon. Soto Luzon, a local Indian, is prone to superstition and warns Ramon that the Manta Diablo, a gigantic manta ray, lives in a cave in the lagoon.  Ramon disregards this warning and continues to practice diving in the lagoon. On his fourth day out in the water, Ramon finds the Pearl of Heaven. His dreams of glory and acceptance by the Sevillano, it seems, will come true.

When Ramon returns with the Pearl of Heaven, Soto Luzon is fearful and will not agree to share the earnings with Ramon. He insists that the pearl belongs to the Manta Diablo.

Meanwhile, the Salazar family and the rest of La Paz are excited about the find. Blas Salazar attempts to sell the pearl, but decides to give the pearl to a church after his attempt was unsuccessful. By donating the proceeds to God, Blas estimates, he will ensure the safety of his fleet and his company rather than incur the wrath of the Manta Diablo, if such a thing exists.

During the next trip out to sea, however, Blas and the rest of his crew are drowned and his fleet sunk. The storm itself is not particularly strong, making the devastation all the more bizarre. Only the Sevillano survives.

When Ramon learns that his father is gone along with his fleet, he believes Soto Luzon was right and is determined to return the Pearl of Heaven to the Manta Diablo. He plucks the pearl from the Madonna statue on which it sits in the church and rows out to the lagoon to return the pearl. The Sevillano, however, wants the pearl for himself and intercepts Ramon on his boat. Just as the Sevillano is about to claim the pearl for himself, the Manta Diablo appears and circles the boat. The Sevillano harpoons the manta but gets caught in the rope during the act. The creature pulls the Sevillano into the sea and drowns the man.

Convinced that the pearl should remain at the church, Ramon rows back ashore and places the pearl back in the hands of the Madonna.

A classic coming-of-age story, The Black Pearl follows a young person who is all too eager to grow up. While the setting is unfamiliar to most, it presents a unique situation in which to portray a child’s impatience to reach manhood. Facing ordeals, conflicting with parents and other adults, and understanding the limitations of man in a natural world are all necessary to achieve maturation, according to O’Dell’s interpretation of Ramon’s experiences.

Another major theme of the story is the value, or lack thereof, of superstition. The town speaks of the Manta Diablo with frightened reverence, and with sometimes incorrect information. Ramon’s opinion of the creature changes over the course of the book, from childhood boogey monster, to superstition, to evil itself, to an ordinary, albeit large creature in a rational world. In the end, it’s the acts of man that are the greatest obstacle for Ramon, not the whim of the creature.

The Manta Diablo itself acts as a bridge to the centuries-old quest genre. In The Black Pearl, a young unproven ‘hero’ must earn glory by obtaining a rare and priceless item but face countless obstacles along the way. The Manta Diablo recalls ancient monsters such as dragons in medieval tales of heroes, or any assortment of monsters, both wicked and helpful, in Greek mythology. Boastful, The Sevillano smacks of Ancient Greece’s mythological heroes such as Achilles or Hercules: strong and accomplished but proud and greedy to a fault.

Lastly, the book is an easy and enjoyable read for most ages; it’s feasibly read in one sitting.  The several different conflicts are an introduction to young readers to the basic conflicts found in books: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and even man vs. the supernatural. Under this microscope, young readers can also understand how evil can wear many different faces.