What is the parable and moral lesson of The Pearl?

The Pearl is a parable in that it is a simple story used to convey a moral lesson, and the lesson in question is that wealth doesn't always bring happiness. In fact, it often brings suffering, as in the case for Kino and his family.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The moral lesson of The Pearl is that the love of money is the root of evil. As the book opens, Kino, Juana, and their very young son, Coyotito, are content with their simples lives. However, when Coyotito is stung by a scorpion, trouble invades their peaceful existence: the parents don't know how they can afford the medical bills for Coyotito's treatment. When they find a very valuable pearl, they are overjoyed. It seems a stroke of good fortune that will solve all their problems as soon as they sell it.

However, they find themselves immersed in trouble and misery in the quest to sell the pearl. The other villagers are envious, and greedy people go after the family, wanting to get hold of the pearl. Further, the anticipation of wealth goes to Kino's head. He no longer simply wants medical attention for Coyoyito but to educate him so he can rise above his station.

Juana sees the evil in the pearl and states that it "is like a sin! It will destroy us." It seems to them over time to turn gray and unpleasant. Finally, when Coyoyito is killed by someone seeking the pearl, Kino finally accepts that the treasure is evil and throws it away. Ironically, what seemed to be the key to saving their son's life is what takes it away.

The story is a parable that warns readers not to put all their faith in money.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 26, 2021
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A parable can be defined as a simple story designed to convey an important moral message. Some of the most famous parables are those told by Jesus in the New Testament, such as the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Steinbeck's The Pearl definitely falls into this category, though of course, it lacks the religious dimensions of Jesus's parables. In his story, Steinbeck conveys the moral message that wealth doesn't necessarily guarantee happiness. Not only that, but it can actually bring great harm. When Kino finds a valuable pearl, he thinks he's got it made. From now on, he and his family will no longer have to live in poverty. Life will be a bowl of cherries from here on in.

Sadly, that turns out not to be the case. Kino's discovery only serves to put a target on his back as unscrupulous, greedy men crawl out of the woodwork to get their hands on his valuable find. In the process, Kino and his family are forced to flee for their lives, running from place to place like hunted animals.

In the end, Kino's son, Coyotito, ends up getting his head blown off by the men pursuing his family. And all because of greed. In this appalling tragedy, one can see a prime illustration of another moral lesson, this time from the Bible: The love of money is the root of all evil.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 22, 2021
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The term "parable" applies to Steinbeck's novella in two ways. The story of Kino and Juana includes elements of a parable, a literary story that develops a moral theme or lesson. It is presented as an unusual narrative, the retelling of an old story that has remained in people's hearts. In the introduction to Part I, Steinbeck writes:

In the town they tell the story of the great pearl--how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man's mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people's hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.

If this story is a parable, perhaps everyone takes his own meaning from it and reads his own life into it.

Steinbeck does not say that The Pearl is a parable, but his diction--"if"--immediately associates the story with a parable as he suggests that a moral less or "meaning" might well be drawn from it. It is, he says, a story of "good and evil," the parameters for measuring moral conduct.

Also, the title, The Pearl, and the fabulous pearl itself that Kino finds can be interpreted as allusions to the "Parable of the Pearl," also known as "The Pearl of Great Price," found in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament of the Bible. Steinbeck's title itself suggests a moral lesson in the work.

The primary moral lesson is developed from the contrast between Kino and Juana's life before discovering the great pearl and their life after it came into their possession. The opening scene in the novella shows Kino, Juana, and their baby son, Coyotito, living in peace and natural beauty on the beach, very near the ocean's waters. They live in poverty, but there is harmony and contentment in the simplicity of their lives. In the final scene, Kino and Juana return to the beach--their dead baby's body wrapped in his mother's shawl--where Kino throws the pearl back into the ocean. The events between the beginning and the end, once Kino becomes obsessed with the pearl, detail the manner in which evil destroys all that was good in Kino and Juana's life together.

The lesson of The Pearl can be stated numerous ways:

  • A man can lose all that he truly values if he becomes obsessed with wealth.
  • Greed corrupts and opens the door to evil.
  • What is most valuable in life cannot be purchased at any price.

However the lesson of The Pearl might be stated, the story shows clearly that Kino's "Pearl of the World" destroys the peace, harmony, and goodness of his own world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial