Literary Symbols

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Literary symbols are used to raise the reader’s awareness of the themes of a story. In The Pearl, by John Steinbeck, the meaning of the great pearl itself – the novella’s central symbol – is never explicitly defined. The nature of the pearl’s symbolic significance is left to each reader’s interpretation, this symbolism shifts over the course of the work. At first, the pearl represents a stroke of divine providence that gives Kino’s family hope. As Juana catches her breath and moan, “in the surface of the great pearl, [Kino] can see dream forms” (19). This is the first time to see the ability of the pearl to reflect: by looking at it, Kino sees what he desires; he sees “dream forms”. The appearance of the great pearl does not only symbolizes Cyotito’s chance of recovering from illness, but also a better living for Kino’s family. Once the town finds out about the pearl, however, the object begins to make everyone who beholds it, greedy. The neighbors call it “the Pearl of the World”(21), and while that title originally seems to refer to the pearl’s great size and beauty, it also underscores the fact that having the pearl brings the outside world’s destructive influence into Kino’s simple life. Everyone in the village starts to pretend that he or she is some how relate to the great pearl, and starts to dream of it: It came to the priest walking in his garden, and it put a thoughtful look in his eyes and a memory of certain repairs necessary to the church. He wondered what the pearl would be worth. […] The news came to the doctor […]. And the doctor's eyes rolled up a little in their fat hammocks and he thought of Paris. […] The news came early to the beggars in front of the church, and it made them giggle a little with pleasure, for they knew that there is no almsgiver in the world like a poor man who is suddenly lucky. The great pearl elicits more and more greed on Kino’s part as he begins to devote all his energies and possessions to protect it. It thus comes to...
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