Metaphors In The Pearl
In John Steinbeck’s story The Pearl, it is the precious stone itself that serves a parable for the greed and avarice that naturally accompany the discovery and revelation of sudden wealth in the hands of desperately poor people. Kino and his wife Juana hope to use the proceeds from the sale of the pearl they found to both secure financial resources needed to have their infant son Coyotito treated for his sickness from the scorpion bit, and to elevate their social status among their community. Whether this constitutes greed or simply a determined effort at helping his family find a better life is worthy of debate, but The Pearl clearly is intended to act as warning against avarice and greed. Since finding the pearl, Kino becomes entangled in a number of menacing confrontations and, very soon, his previously peaceable nature becomes supplanted by a more threatening, defensive posture that merely wants to preserve the pearl until it can be sold. It is one such confrontation where Steinbeck employs a metaphor to describe the descent of his protagonist from peaceable, happy father into angry, defenseless and ultimately murderous protector of the pearl. It is in Chapter Five where one finds Steinbeck’s use of a metaphor in comparing Kino’s canoe, which had originally belonged to his grandfather and, consequently, holds a personal and spiritual value that transcends its otherwise questionable condition. Reflecting on his having killed one of the men who had intended to rob him of the pearl, Kino subsequently notes the condition of the canoe, through the hull of which somebody had poked a sizable hole:
“The killing of a man was not so evil as the killing of a boat. For a boat does not have sons, and a boat cannot protect itself, and a wounded boat does not heal. There was sorrow in Kino's rage, but this last thing had tightened him beyond breaking. He was an animal now, for hiding, for attacking, and he lived only to preserve himself and his family.”
Kino has become that which he has previously eschewed: a violent murderous member of the lowest echelon of society. He has incorporated the pearl into his very being, protecting and revering at the expense of his values and worth as a human being. As Steinbeck’s protagonist notes following the egregious acts that have taken place in the interest of possessing this valuable deposit of calcium carbonate formed from the shell of a mollusk, a crustacean, a bottom-feeder: "This pearl has become my soul," said Kino. "If I give it up I shall lose my soul. Go thou also with God."
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An example of a metaphor from Chapter 5 of The Pearl can be found in this line: "He was an animal now, for hiding, for attacking, and he lived only to preserve himself and his family." This is on page 62 of my copy, a Penguin book paperback edition.
The comparison is, of course, between the man (Kino) and a wild animal.