In The Pearl, what is the purpose of or what is the meaning behind the simile, "A town is a thing like a colonial animal"?
Chapter 3 of John Steinbeck's The Pearl describes the reaction of the villagers, from the poorest to the richest, to Kino's discovery of the "Pearl of the World." It is evident from the description that Kino has earned the jealousy and greed of the town; the priest who refused to see him before now suddenly visits Kino, and the doctor that refused to treat Coyotito's scorpion bite also visits Kino and treats the baby with everything that he has. With greed, the doctor even attempts to cue in on were Kino keeps the pearl. Meanwhile, the other villagers show signs of envy and jealousy, making Kino worried about the entire world, as he knows it.
The implication of this is basically that the entire town, as different and socially-fragmented as it is, still somewhat operates as a dysfunctional and imbalanced community now driven by one same desire to take possession of the pearl. When Steinbeck talks about the "colonial animal", he is comparing the broken and yet "put together" community of Kino to a life form made of separate colonies of unrelated life forms, such as in the case of a coral: it is a composite life-form made of different types of other animals and yet, it somewhat continues to live as one.