The Pearl: Metaphor Analysis
Because The Pearl is presented as a parable nearly every aspect of the story can be used as a metaphor for good or evil. Some of the more prominent include:
The most obvious symbol in the story is the pearl itself. It is an accident of the natural world, the product of the interactions between a tiny grain of sand and an oyster. In this way it is a metaphor for fortune and the luck that produces it makes it valuable to human beings. Additionally, it acts as a sort of crystal ball in which Kino sees visions of the future that might be: a rifle, fine clothes, a formal wedding for he and Juana and an education for his son. In this manner the pearl is a symbol of Kino's daring. Most important for the story is the fact that the peal is not in and of itself wealth - rather it is a metaphor for the wealth that might be generated by selling it. The trouble Kino has converting this accident of the natural world into the wealth of the human world is symbolic of the condition of his people who are seemingly fated to never rise above their impoverished position.
The rifle is the first thing that Kino sees when he looks into the pearl and his desire for one symbolizes the break with his former life. Previous to finding the pearl, Kino would not have dared dream to own such a valuable item, but with the pearl all things seem possible and the rifle is the wish that opens the door for all other to follow. In this way it is a metaphor for all the things Kino wants from the pearl. Significantly, a rifle becomes the means of Coyotito's death. When Kino seizes it from the gunman it becomes the one thing that the pearl actually delivers to him. When he and Juana return to village, Kino carries the rifle while Juana carries their dead son.
Many of the elements of the natural world act as metaphors in the course of the story. From the oyster beds to the vision-obscuring mist of the Gulf; from the harsh scrub brush landscape of the interior to the oasis of life around the spring in the granite mountains, images of nature abound in the story. In this way the oyster bed is a metaphor for luck, the mist a metaphor for the ignorance which blinds the villagers and the spring in the cleft of the mountains is a metaphor for the struggle between life and death.
Kino's bush hut admits light and air, symbolizing not only his material poverty but also his close relationship with nature. The doctor's stone house, on the other hand, is enclosed by a wall and contains a caged bird, symbolizing his relative wealth and distance from the natural world and the indians whom he considers little more than wild animals. Throughout the story, Steinbeck includes details that act as metaphors for the action of the plot, such as when he describes the big fish feeding on the small fish in the estuary even as Kino is being hunted by forces which seek to take the pearl from him and, in the larger picture, just as his people have always been used for sustenance by the ruling class.