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As a parable, John Steinbeck's novella, The Pearl, contains a symbol whose meanings change. In fact, the pearl is reflective of the changes that take place in its owner, Kino. When Kino first gathers it from the depths of the sea, the pearl is a wondrous thing of beauty; it is the "Pearl of the World." As such, it first symbolizes the optimism of the family after the harrowing experience of Coyotito's having been bitten by a scorpion. Then, it also symbolizes Kino's optimism and hopes for his son's education.
However, as the narrative progresses, it is the beauty of the pearl that elicits the greed and evil of others and Kino must fight to protect this Pearl of the World if he is to keep it. Now, this nomenclature for the pearl finds a new meaning: it is a thing of such beauty that it attracts the greedy and materialistic. And, as it draws these people of cupidity, the pearl becomes evil. For Kino, who ignores his wife's pleas to rid themselves of it and his brother's urgings that the pearl is evil, the pearl has become his obsession; he says that the pearl "has become my soul....if I give it up, I shall lose my soul." He has become no better than the colonial powers who also have lost their souls to materialism.
But, the irony is that Kino has lost his soul before he gives up the pearl because he has killed a man and his son dies. His family no longer hears the Song of the family. Bereft, Juana and Kino walk all night to get away from this evil, this predatory,charac materialistic object that the Pearl has become. Only after they throw the pearl into the water can Kino and Juana return to their old life in which songs abound.
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