Kino’s story is an allegory: his journey affords him a small amount of personal growth and a variety of lessons on which to reflect. An allegory may take one of many forms. One form of allegory is that of a type of fiction more or less symbolic in feature intending to convey a meaning that is not explicitly set forth within the narrative. Allegories usually involve a journey that a character makes toward spiritual growth. The plot of Steinbeck’s story is simple: a man finds the “Pearl of the World” but he does not gain happiness and throws it back. Within this narrative are many hidden meanings. The story tells us that humanity is in the dark and needs to wake up. Therefore, the opening shows Kino waking in the night, which is allegorical, but because the cock has been crowing for some time we know that he has been trying to gain a consciousness-literally wake up-to his people’s plight.
Another message is that journeys should be made in communion, not just the company, of another. Kino should be in a leadership position among his people because of his fortuitous discovery, but he is not leading them. He tries to sell the pearl, which could have ruptured the economic system and provided economic opportunity for his people. Instead he falls prey to doubt and decides to go for the big city, leaving his people ignorant of his mission. Kino decides to make his own way and is followed by his wife. He returns with her, but they are still alone and everything is the same as before.
The novel is full of symbolism of the talismanic, allegorical, and ironic kind. The pearl itself is a symbol of escape for the poor man, but it also symbolizes the effects of greed on man. Worse than that, Steinbeck sets up the pearl to embody the whole of the European conquest of the Americas. He does this by saying that the pearl bed in which it was found is the same pearl bed that raised the King of Spain to be the greatest in the world. Historically, then, this pearl bed represents the gold, silver, and raw resources that Spain extracted from the New World at the height of that nation’s empire. Now, this same pearl bed lures in a victim of that colonialism to dream of an easy escape from poverty.
The pearl is a talisman: an object that comes to be interchangeable with a person or an idea. At one point Kino views the pearl as his soul and vows to keep it. For Kino, the success of the pearl’s sale will indicate his success. The pearl stands opposite to the canoe that at once stands for his family and is a sure bulwark against starvation. When he makes it known that he will pursue wealth by venturing on his own to the great city, his canoe is sabotaged. This is a crime greater than homicide for it is a direct assault on Kino’s family-worse than burning down the house.
Irony arises in the name of the village: La Paz or peace. The town is only peaceful because the majority of the people are demoralized. Their peace is one of an oppressed people. The pearl stirs up this peace and only bloodshed restores calm.
The Indians are constantly presented as innocent primitives further duped by the superstition of the Catholic Church. They are also, and Kino is especially, compared to animals. In their daily habits of fishing and gathering they are like the hungry dogs and pigs described as searching the shore for easy meals. More exactly, Kino howls, the trackers sniff and whine, and the baby yelps-a sound reminiscent of its namesake, the Coyote. Animals have roles in the story as well. The Watcher’s horse raises the European above the Indians; this advantage is used to conquer the hemisphere.
While the story has its symbols and large allegorical sentiments, every facet of the tale is transcribed into metaphor. Even the minds of the Indian people are as “unsubstantial as the mirage of the Gulf.” Further, they are clouded as if the mud of the sea floor has been permanently disturbed to block their vision. Even the city as seat of the colonial administration is given metaphorical animation: “A town is a thing like a colonial animal. A town has a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet.”
In a moment of foreshadowing, Kino watches as two roosters prepare to fight. He then notices wild doves flying inland where later Kino will prepare to fight his pursuers. Juana is like an owl when she watches Kino sneak down the cliff. Earlier, when the watering hole was described, feathers left by cats that had dragged their prey there are noticed. Those with feathers die. On the other hand, Kino is no longer an animal. Instead, when Kino kills the men who are tracking him he is a machine. He is efficient and without noise, like the cats playing with their doomed prey. He is killing to survive. The metaphor that is mixed in with this scene of tension and action is in keeping with the style of the rest of the work while also lending it a realistic dimension.