by John Steinbeck
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The pearl is a BIG deal. At first it’s the apex of Kino’s dreams and desires, and the next minute it’s a harbinger of bad, wicked things. Juana calls it "evil," "a sin" that "will destroy" them. Kino’s brother Juan thinks "the devil" is in it.
But to agree with the assessment that the pearl is evil would be to miss the bigger picture. If the pearl itself is the problem, we can’t really critique the motives and behavior of the characters in the novella. We walk away from the parable with the lesson that…um…really big pearls are evil?
Not so much. Did you notice how the pearl has a strangely reflective quality? Regardless of whether or not this is realistic, it certainly has something to do with the pearl as a symbol. And it helps us see that the pearl itself isn’t the source of evil. Men look at the pearl and see what they want to see: Kino sees a wedding, education for his son, a rifle. The doctor sees himself moving back to Paris and eating in fancy restaurants. The priest sees additions for his church. The point is that people make the pearl into what they want it to be. It follows then that if the pearl is evil, it is because people have made it evil. They have corrupted with greed what should have been a beautiful, elegant means for a better future. In other words, pearls don’t kill people, people kill people.
Of course, the tragedy of The Pearl is that no one realizes this. Even the wisest, most pensive characters – Juan Tomás and Juana, the two "guides" for Kino – mistake the evils of people as the flaws of the pearl. If you look at it this way, the novel’s ending is doubly dismal: Kino has lost everything and yet learned nothing from it. He somehow thinks that by chucking the pearl to the bottom of the ocean, the problems of man will disappear. As readers of the parable, we must not make the same mistake as Kino.