Symbolism in the Pearl by John Steinbeck

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In John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, rich symbolism is used to convey the message of the parable being told. Symbolism is a useful tool in storytelling because it helps the author add a deeper meaning to the story. In The Pearl, Steinbeck enriches every aspect of the story with symbolism from the setting, to characters, and the plot itself. The different symbols interact with one another throughout the story, which ultimately affects the outcome of the novel. The first and most important symbol is the massive pearl that Kino finds. The pearl is very rich with symbolic meaning, which changes through the story. When Kino finally brings the massive stone to the surface and examines it, he views the pearl as the blessing of a lifetime. Looking into the pearl, Kino sees all of his dreams coming true: a beautiful wedding for his wife, a rifle for himself, and an education for his son. At first, the pearl is the symbol of freedom. Kino and his family could finally be freed from the oppression of poverty and a meager existence. This could also be interpreted as Steinbeck’s achievement of the American dream of quick fortune and prosperity. As the story unfolds, the theme associated with the pearl changes from a positive view to a negative one. As the village and town learn of the pearl, envy starts setting in among the people. Soon after, attempts are made to steal the pearl, leading to Kino’s assault, the burned home, and ultimately Coyotito’s death. In the end, the pearl ends up representing the evil resulting from greed. Kino, blinded by the wealth he could obtain, doesn’t recognize the evil the pearl brings out in him and others until its too late. Had Keno gotten rid of the pearl sooner, his son may have survived. Another symbol in the story is the sea. The Pearl takes place on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The village is a small community on the outskirts of the Mexican town, La Paz. The villagers living here are an indigenous people whose livelihood is largely dependent on the harvesting and selling of pearls. The men of the village risk their lives by taking canoes out to the deep water, diving down to the ocean floor and blindly search for the precious stones. The ocean is one of the first symbols of the novel. It represents the unstable source of sustenance for the village. Like the ocean, pearl diving is very unpredictable and unreliable. An unsuccessful day of pearl diving ultimately suppresses the dependent family deeper into poverty. This unstable support system was one of the factors that lead Kino to risk his family’s well being in order to sell the pearl. The next important symbol of the story is the scorpion. The scorpion not only serves as a symbol, but also as a foreshadowing tool. The venomous creature represents the evil forces that will soon enter their lives. The insect unsuspectingly snuck into their home and preyed on the innocent child. This was apparent foreshadowing of the pearl abruptly entering the lives of the seemingly innocent family. In addition, the scorpion can also be interpreted as the magnitude of the poverty of the family. The fact that they had no means to pay for the anti-venom shows what little wealth they had. Like the ocean symbolism, the inability to pay for treatment of the sting also fueled Kino’s destructive behavior that lead to Coyotito’s death. Another symbol and foreshadowing device in the novel are the tribal songs that Kino hears through the story. In the beginning of the story, Kino is laying in bed contently listening to the sounds of his surroundings. “Kino heard the little splash of morning waves on the beach. It was very good - Kino closed his eyes again to listen to his music” (Steinbeck 1). This blissful music symbolizes Kino’s happiness is the beginning of the story. Although he leads a simple and poor life, he contently embraces as his own. The next instance when Kino hears music is when he is diving down about to discover the pearl. Kino is...
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