It is commonly stated that parables teach some moral or spiritual lesson. This definition has merit, but more can be said. Parables also seek to challenge a person’s assumptions. They seeks a paradigm shift, which is no small matter. We can see this point in the New Testament where the purpose of the parables of Jesus is given. Mark 4:11-12 make this point. He replied,
The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those on the outside, everything is expressed in parables, so that they may be sever seeing but never perceiving and ever hearing but never understanding
In other words, parables confuse old paradigms and worldviews so that a new vision of the world can emerge out of that confusion.
In The Pearl, a paradigm shift is also in play in two ways. First, it is a reversal of Jesus’s parable of the pearl of great cost. In the New Testament, when one finds the great pearl, he sells everything to get it. Of course, the pearl in this context is the kingdom of God. In Steinbeck’s novel, the great pearl is just a big pearl.
Second, Kino “sells all” to get this pearl, that is, this pearl consumes him. On the surface, this act might seem like a good idea, but in the end, this pearl is deceptive. It promises much, but it only delivers pain. The reason for this is Steinbeck changed the referent of the pearl. The pearl is not the kingdom of God or something akin to this, but it represents wealth and with wealth, greed, covetousness, and other destructive desires.
If we look at the book from this perspective, then the message of the parable is to be wary of the desire for wealth. There can, of course, be other lessons. Consider them; you will be well on your way to becoming an insightful reader of texts.