Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre describes three down-on-their-luck adventurers as they seek their fortunes mining for gold in the mountains of Mexico. It not only details the physical hardships the men face but also vividly portrays their mental deterioration as the lust for gold overwhelms them.
The opening of the novel focuses on Dobbs, penniless and out of work, speculating about various methods to get some money. After successfully begging for a peso, he rents a cot at a slum hotel, indulges in a meal, succumbs to a beggar child who sells him a lottery ticket, and attempts to find more money. He makes an unsuccessful search for work in the oil fields and then is briefly employed by an exploitative contractor who refuses to pay his workers. Curtin, another American also cheated by this unscrupulous boss, teams up with Dobbs, and together they force the contractor to give them their full pay.
Later, the two men encounter an old prospector, Howard, who entertains them with a description of La Mina Agua Verde, source of many of the treasures of the Aztec kings. The tale, dating back to the Spanish conquest, illustrates how the lust for gold drove both conquistadores and monks to exploit the people and environment they encountered. Eventually, the Spaniards were massacred, and the mine disappeared until a college student discovered an old map showing its location. He gathered a group of explorers, including Howard, who found and then lost the mine once again because of selfishness and greed. Tragedy, not wealth, has been the outcome for those who sought its riches.
Although Dobbs finds himself shaken by the story, he and Curtin quickly conclude that gold could provide an escape from their present impoverished existence. They persuade Howard to join them, and the three set off for the Sierra Madre. It...
(The entire section is 755 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Baumann, Michael L. B. Traven: An Introduction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976. Discusses Traven as a proletarian writer, focusing on his attitudes toward nationalism and capitalism. Discusses the novel’s tone, vision, and proletarian point of view.
Chankin, Donald O. Anonymity and Death: The Fiction of B. Traven. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975. Clear, insightful psychoanalytic analysis of character and theme in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Discusses literary parallels with Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug.”
Mezo, Richard E. A Study of B. Traven’s Fiction: The Journey to Solipaz. San Francisco: Mellon Research University Press, 1993. A comprehensive critical analysis of theme, character, style, and structure in Traven’s fiction. Provides detailed comparisons of the four main characters. Extensive bibliography. A very good introduction to Traven and his fiction.
Schurer, Ernst, and Philip Jenkins, eds. B. Traven: Life and Work. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1987. Comprehensive collection of essays analyzing Traven’s life as well as major themes, ideas, and motifs in his writing. Provides a historical and political context for Traven’s work. Includes several analyses of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Stone, Judy. The Mystery of B. Traven. Los Altos, Calif.: William Kaufmann, 1977. Includes excerpts from the only extended series of interviews with Traven, including Traven’s recollections of the filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Reveals his complex social philosophy. An important source for analyzing Traven’s fiction.