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.)