To what does John Steinbeck compare the town in chapter three of The Pearl?

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The very first paragraph of chapter 3 has the descriptive comparison that the question is asking about.

A town is a thing like a colonial animal. A town has a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet. A town is a thing separate from all other towns, so that there are no two towns alike. And a town has a whole emotion. How news travels through a town is a mystery not easily to be solved. News seems to move faster than small boys can scramble and dart to tell it, faster than women can call it over the fences.

As a biology teacher, this paragraph has always intrigued me because the first statement declares that a town is like "a colonial animal" instead of saying that a town is like an animal colony. Flipping those two words around is a big deal. An animal colony is the big picture. It is the group of same-species organisms that are living and working together to form a cohesive and working unit. Ant colonies and bee colonies are good examples of animal colonies. A key to these colonies is that a certain amount of specialization exists: not all of the individuals in the colony have the same abilities or responsibilities. Comparing a town to an animal colony makes sense; however, comparing a town to a colonial animal doesn't make as much sense to me. This would focus on a single animal within the colony—for example, a worker bee. It has its own responsibility to the greater colony, just as a shopkeeper has a responsibility to the town. Saying a town is like that single individual doesn't quite make sense, unless that town is an individual piece of an entire state or country, yet the narrator never opens up that possibility. What is also disconcerting to me as a biology teacher is that the second sentence begins describing an individual organism. It narrates about specific body parts and body systems that function to keep...

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