Symbolism embodies an abstract idea or concept by using an object or character. In the parable, The Pearl, Steinbeck uses symbolism extensively to create and develop the novel’s themes. The pearl of the book’s title is a symbol, which develops from a paradise of hopes and dreams, to a destructive centre of evil. The key symbol of the pearl generates the theme of the destructive nature of greed throughout the book. The doctor as a symbol develops the theme of oppression. Steinbeck elaborates the theme of humanity in the natural world by changing the way he describes nature.
The theme of greed is elaborated through objects and characters such as the pearl, the doctor and the pearl dealers. The pearl, known as the “Pearl of the World”, is the focal symbol of the novel. The transformation from an innocent, idyllic heaven of wealth and perfection to a damaging force of darkness develops the theme of the destructive nature of greed. This theme is prominent throughout the novel and arises as the materialistic world’s destructive influence takes effect on Kino’s simple life. By bringing out the evil and greed in men, the pearl, rather than a blessing forms into a curse. As the symbol of the pearl changes, the theme of greed surfaces, bringing out the evil in the men in the town, and even the evil in Kino himself. Kino is so consumed by and attached to the pearl he states,
“The pearl has become my soul…If I give it up I shall lose my soul”
As his greed intensifies, he becomes so obsessed with selling the pearl that he ultimately loses everything, his canoe, his original way of life and eventually his son. The realism and irony of all of Kino’s losses illustrates the damaging and profound impact of greed. The doctor and his treatment of the native community also motivate the themes of greed and oppression of the indigenous. In the parable, the doctor, even as wealthy as he is, refuses to help Coyotito because Kino could not pay him.
The theme of oppression is manifested by the doctor’s and pearl dealer’s treatment of the indigenous people. The doctor’s selfishness, arrogance and greed; portrays the arrogance of colonial superiority over the native society. He looks down upon Kino’s people and only looks for opportunities to exploit them for his own gain. The greed and oppression symbolized by the doctor is illustrated in the following passage,
“The doctor never came to the cluster of bush houses. Why should he, when he had more than he could do to take care of rich people who lived in the stone plaster houses of the town”
In his descriptions of the natural world Steinbeck uses symbolic language to elaborate the theme of humanity as a part of nature. In The Pearl, Kino is linked to the natural world. This world reflects and mirrors the changing perceptions of the human world. For example, the beautiful, idyllic innocence of Kino’s simple, traditional life, which he lives before he finds the pearl is depicted at the start of the novel as Kino awakens,
“…It was a morning like other mornings, yet perfect among mornings.”
In the darker end of the novel, Kino and Juana flee the town. As they do, the reader experiences the natural world’s harsher qualities. This is illustrated in chapter 6,
“The little pools were places of life because of the water, and places of killing because of the water, too”.
The pool represents both life and death, showing us that nature embodies not only good, but also harsher and darker elements, such as death. Kino’s fate as well, seems to be bonded with nature, in the opening chapter; there is a sense of foreboding with this passage,
“…Kino watched with the detachment of God while a dusty ant frantically tried to escape a sand trap an ant lion had dung for him”.
This creates a corresponding link between Kino and nature, and God and Kino. This portrays God as the ant lion, setting a trap (the pearl) for Kino (the dusty ant). There is another symbolic event as Coyotito is strung by a scorpion. This again is part of nature and symbolises evil (the scorpion) destroying innocence (Coyotito), which in the parable, repeats itself as Kino’s innocence and simple way of life is destroyed by his greed and ruthless materialistic desires.
Steinbeck is also able to link the themes of nature and greed in the following passage,
“On the beach hungry dogs and hungry pigs of the town searched endlessly for any dead fish or sea bird that might have floated in on a rising tide.”
The hunger of the dogs and pigs symbolises opportunistic greed in a natural setting. Their endless search for dead fish or sea bird represents greed which is eternal. The image of dogs and pigs ignorantly desiring rotten fish and seabirds helps the reader to move to a higher level and look down on the greedy characters that helplessly and foolishly desire the pearl.
Through clever use of symbolism, Steinbeck has written short passages, which elaborate the themes of greed, oppression and humanity in the natural world. Symbols are used to raise the reader’s awareness of the themes at a higher level than simply following the plot of the story. Symbols such as the pearl can carry many meanings for the different characters at different times in the novella. In The Pearl, Steinbeck has shown that he is a master of the use of symbols.
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The Pearl, Interpretive Essay In The Pearl, the author, John Steinbeck, uses the pearl to express what human nature is like. At the beginning of the novel, the pearl that Kino finds is described as large as being incandescent and as “perfect as the moon”; by the end of the novel, the pearl that Kino finds is described as “ugly, gray, like a malignant growth. ” In general, mankind is greedy and evil. In the novel, Steinbeck throughout the entire story, in my opinion, is trying to say that human nature tends to be deception, which can turn something beautiful and great to become something bad and ugly.
First of all, Steinbeck shows humans are instinctively greedy. Steinbeck uses the scene to show humans are gluttonous is where the doctor comes to Kino’s house and heals Coyotito after Kino has found a pearl. When Coyotito is bitten by the scorpion, Kino takes him to the doctor to get treatment, but the doctor refuses to heal Coyotito because Kino is indigent. Later on, after Kino owns the pearl, the doctor comes to Kino’s house and offers a “treatment” for Coyotito. After he “treats” Coyotito, he pretends that he does not know Kino has a pearl and asks Kino about the medical expenses. “You have a pearl?
A good pearl? The doctor asks with interest” (Steinbeck, page 35). The reality is that he wants Kino’s pearl more than giving people. Although the doctor has a lot of money and his life is very plentiful, he still wants more and more. Another example that humans are greedy is the scene where Kino does not want to give up the pearl and keeps all his dreams also demonstrates people’s avarice. Juana, who is smart enough to figure out the reality of the pearl trouble, advises Kino to throw the pearl away. Juana says, “This pearl is evil. This pearl is like a sin. It will destroy us all! “(Steinbeck, page 38).
Even though Juana warns Kino that the pearl will bring misfortunes to the family and advises him to throw the pearl away, Kino neither takes the advice or listens to what his wife says because Kino’s mind is already overtaken by his dreams. He is only thinking of his dreams. Clearly, the greed is surpassed his mind and seems to be controlling him. After Kino has found of “the pearl of the world”, everyone is willing to own it and they begin to start think of their own dreams, “Every men suddenly becomes related to Kino, and Kino’s pearl goes into the dreams, the schemes… man’s enemy” (Steinbeck, page 23).
Then, the narrator says, “For it is said humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more” (Steinbeck, page 25). In the scene where people try to steal Kino’s pearl after the pearl is found (Steinbeck, page 37-38), they do whatever that is possible in order to steal the pearl. From greediness comes deception, which is another human characteristic. On pages 48-52 when Kino is trying to sell the pearl, the pearl dealers try to deceive Kino since they believe he is ignorant. They all act in collusion with each other because they want to buy the pearl at a very cheap price.
In order to do that, all dealers tell lies, saying that the pearl was not valuable and it was a monstrosity (too chalky and soft). Finally, my last example, the doctor is deceptive when he comes to Kino’s house and heals Coyotito, the doctor reveals his true intentions (Steinbeck, page 30-33). The doctor makes Coyotito sick for a while by giving him a “potion”, which is in reality a dangerous substance. First, he overstates Coyotito’s state of his illness, saying that he might die if he does not get immediate cure. Since Kino is so worried about his son, he doesn’t question the doctor.
Then, the doctor gives Coyotito another medication, saying it would make him well again. But, reading this you can see that Coyotito is getting better right before the doctor comes to heal him. “The doctor smiles, but his eyes in their little lymph lined hammocks do not smile” (Steinbeck, page 30). As one reads this quote carefully, one can see what the purpose is when the doctor comes to Kino’s house is either to steal the pearl or force Kino to pay for the treatment. The way that the doctor acts seems to be nice, helpful and kind; but really he is just making an illusion to fool Kino.
Last but not least, evil is one of mankinds’ instinctive qualities as well, which comes from peoples’ greed and deception. Steinbeck uses the doctor who refuses to treat Coyotito as a symbol of showing humans are evil. When Coyotito is bitten by the scorpion and Kino asked the doctor for treatments, he rejects to heal the Indian people who are not the same race as he is unless those people have enough money to pay for his service. “Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for little Indians? I am a doctor, not a veterinarian” (Steinbeck, page 11). “Has he any money? No, they never have money.
I, I alone in this world am supposed to work for nothing, and I am tired of it. See if he has any money! “(Steinbeck, page 11). Even though he is able to cure Coyotito, he only cures those who can afford the treatment. Also, in the scene where Kino hits Juana when she tries to throw the pearl away back in the sea without asking Kino, this reveals humans are naturally evil. “He strikes her in the face and she falls among the boulders, and he kicks her in the side… He hisses at her like a snake and she stares at him with wide, frightened eyes, like a sheep before a butcher” (Steinbeck, page 59).
Kino has lost his humanity and becomes like an animal, inconsiderate and overtaken by his dreams. Also, Steinbeck uses the scene where people burn down Kino’s house to show humans do evil acts to harm people. Since the pearl dealers cannot think of a way that can deceive Kino, I believe that they are the ones who burned down his house in revenge. Kino’s house has “smokes of the first fires seeped out through the walls of the brush house” (Steinbeck, page 62) and is “a tall edifice of fire lighted the pathway” (Steinbeck, page 63).
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Once again, humans’ avarice and deception have turn into evil and cause them to do evil acts. All in all, Steinbeck states the fact in the novel that humans are born being greedy, deceptive, and evil. The doctor, the townspeople, ad even Kino are affected by these horrid characteristics. Not just in The Pearl, but if you look closely in the lives of everyday people, you’ll see we all can do something bad and the slightest behavior or change of value in an object can change the lives on someone forever.
Author: Brandon Johnson
The Pearl, Interpretive Essay
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