What is the paradox of the story "The Silver Mine"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The paradox, or apparent contradiction, of the short story "The Silver Mine" is the fact that the people are better off remaining poor than becoming wealthy. In addition, there is a paradoxical statement made by the king at the end of the tale.

King Gustav's carriage breaks as he travels across his kingdom through Dalarna. While it is being repaired, his men suggest the king attend services at a nearby church; however, by the time he reaches the church, the service is over and the congregation files out. As they come nearer, the king notices how hardy and healthy they seem. The king thinks to himself,

The Swedish King is not in such poor circumstances as some of his enemies would believe. As long as my subjects remain as fine and wholesome as these are, I shall be able to defend successfully my crown and my land.

Then, he orders a courtier to have the congregation assemble before them that he might speak to them. When they have gathered before them, the king informs them that Sweden is in danger as it has been already attacked by Denmark and Russia. Because there are traitors in his army, the king needs new soldiers; he asks the men if they will support him and fight for their kingdom. After no one responds, a man among them finally informs the king that they were not expecting this day to be addressed by the king and must have time to decide among themselves. If the king wishes a response, he should speak with their minister, who is still inside the church.

Inside the church, the king sees only what he believes to be a farmer. This farmer speaks of the minister, who with four of the congregation stumbled upon a silver mine. When the news of the mine circulated through the community, men grew greedy and they became antipathetic toward one another, even to the point of murder. After the minister promised one man, who in a rage killed his brother, not to reveal the whereabouts of the mine to his children, the minister decided to hide the vein of the silver mine from everyone. But the "farmer" who is really the minister tells the king that the mine can be opened to save the kingdom. The king replies in a paradox: "The kingdom is better served with men than with money."

Actually, another paradox occurs at the end of the story:

Long after, the land of Sweden was in great danger, and the parson thought it would be right to offer the King the secret of the mountain, that its wealth might be used for the defense of the realm. When the King heard all the story, "You must let the mine lie in peace," he said.

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The Silver Mine

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