“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl—how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.
“If this story is a parable, perhaps everyone takes his own meaning from it and reads his own life into it. In any case, they say in the town that. . . .”
This quotation is Steinbeck’s epigraph to The Pearl. In introducing his novella as a legend (he first heard the legend of the Pearl of the World in a Mexican village), Steinbeck sets the tone for the story. He also establishes the parable’s moral universe, in which there “are only good and bad things . . . and no in-between.” Most important, the measured formal language of the epigraph evokes biblical verse and therefore suggests that The Pearl is a parable before Steinbeck himself even alludes to this possibility. Because the epigraph leads directly into Chapter 1 (the first sentence in Chapter 1 effectively concludes the unfinished final sentence of the epigraph), it also creates the sense that we have been taken directly to the source of the legend. The quotes that surround the epigraph give us the sense that someone is telling us a story and that the novella that follows is the storyteller’s tale.