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

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter three of The Pearl, by John Steinbeck, begins this way:

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.

This description is a simile, comparing the town to something else. The scientific usage of the phrase "colonial animal" suggests an larger organism made up of individuals but is still interconnected:

a collective life form comprising associations of individual organisms that are incompletely separated, as corals andmoss animals.

This is an apt description of a town, as everyone lives in a kind of connectedness despite the individual homes and family of which the town is comprised. This is also an example of personification, as he gives living or human qualities (thinking, feeling. moving) to something non-human or non-living (the town). 

This is an apt description, since the next lines refer to how quickly but mysteriously news and gossip manage to travel through a town. The town seems to have a life and method of communication of its own, as does the gossip.