A parable is a story designed to illustrate a lesson or moral. Steinbeck notes at the beginning of The Pearl that the story of Kino and the pearl has been told so often, “it has taken root in every man’s mind” and “heart.” He characterizes the story as a parable when he explains that “there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.” On one level, the story can be viewed as an allegory of good and evil, with Kino and his family representing good, and those who try to steal the pearl from him as evil. In this reading, the lesson or moral focuses on how the pearl inspires greed. However, there are some “in-between things” that suggest a more complex reflection of reality, especially in Steinbeck’s exploration of the interplay of oppression and rebellion.
The dominant symbol in the novel is the pearl. Initially it is “the Pearl of the World,” “as large as a sea gull’s egg” and as “perfect as the moon”; it represents a bright future for Kino and his family. Kino sees the pearl as providing the “music of promise and delight” with its “guarantee of the future, of comfort, of security.” It promised “a poultice against illness and a wall against insult. It closed a door on hunger.” As it inspires greed in the hearts of others, however, and Kino is forced to face the consequences of that greed, the pearl transforms into a “gray and ulcerous” object with “evil faces” peering from it.” The scorpion becomes a symbol of this transformation. Like the scorpion’s sting, the pearl infects those who come into contact with it because it stimulates their greed. They turn into predators symbolized by the story’s nighttime setting, when “mice crept about on the ground and the little night hawks hunted them silently.” The darkness is filled with a “poisonous air.” At the beginning of the story, the attacks that Kino must fend off are symbolized by the two roosters near his house, who “bowed and feinted at each other with squared wings and neck feathers ruffed out.”
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, John Steinbeck, Published by Gale Group, 2010