Freak! Over-achiever! Desperate loser! Clingy, pushy and bossy! Pearl, Steven Universe’s perfectionist and guardian to the show’s titular hero, is often put down by fans. Fans who, at best, fail to recognise the true merit of the character and, at worst, don’t care!
To be fair, it’s not hard to write Pearl off. In the first episode we see her pride herself on ‘doing the right thing’ and paying for the stolen Cookie Cat ice-creams. Pearl even goes so far as to sort of snub Amethyst for her petty crime while promoting her need to do the right thing. She is a goody too shoes with a know-it-all, holier than thou attitude, but don’t be too quick to write her off as some token trope! She is so much more.
You’re A Pearl
Pearl is bright and beautiful, but she is also broken. Pearl struggles to find her place in the world, both in Steven’s life and as her role as a Crystal Gem. Once she stood aside Rose Quartz defending the planet, a key strategist in Earth’s survival. Now she’s left alone with only her memories and dreams for comfort and a child to care for. A child that is a constant reminder of someone she loved and lost without ever having truly had. Watching Pearl reminisce about her time spent with Rose is heartbreaking.
This was a time when the planet was ravaged by war, Homeworld turned against them and so many friends lost. Yet Pearl still clings to her time spent beside the Gem she adored. The Gem she would gladly have given up her own life for if it came to that. We know this because of the song she sings while training Bonnie to swordfight; ‘Do It For Her’.
Pearls Mean Tears
Pearl can’t help but slip up. She’s coaching Connie but it’s more than just that. She sees a lot of herself in her young protégé and it stirs up some powerful emotions. This is more than just a song to inspire; it’s a song of pure devotion. In this same episode (‘Sworn To The Sword’) we actually get to see Pearl open up about her failings, come to recognise that she isn’t always right and build on her ability to guide Steven and Connie.
In that time we’ve learned more about her relationship with Rose.
We’ve seen that her love may have been somewhat unrequited or at least her relationship with Rose was more platonic. We watch as she sees Rose grow closer to Greg Universe, a human, and we see her resentment of Steven’s father growing from her own hurt. In episode 8 of the 3rd season, ‘Mr. Greg’, Pearl is overcome by those feelings. Face to face with Greg, she recognises her own pain and rejection: ‘Who am I now in this world without her? Petty and dull with the nerve to doubt her? What does it matter, it’s already done. Now I’ve got to be there for her son.’
Shine Bright Like A Pearl
Where was she to go? What was she to do without Rose? Pearl is completely insecure in herself and her place with the Crystal Gems. Her insecurities overwhelm her. So much of her emotions and identity ties into her relationships. Pearl latches onto others for approval, for acceptance, to feel some ounce of self-worth. It’s evident when she tricks Garnet into fusing and even when she put Steven in danger in ‘Space Race’. All of this stems from the fact that Homeworld Pearls are seen as subservient (‘Back to the Barn’) lesser beings created to be at the beck and call of others. Who is Pearl if she isn’t there for someone else? If she can’t give herself to someone? That’s her real struggle!
We have all felt like Pearl at some stage; dejected lovers clinging to the hope of some ounce of affection or notice from ‘the one’. We’ve been fearful or unsure of ourselves in a world that feels like it sometimes doesn’t need or want us. Hoping for acceptance, eager to please and willing to give everything for that idea.
Like all of us, Pearl is a truly precious gem.
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!