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.