Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 892
While making a visit to San Francisco “to have a sight of the great world,” Keawe, a young Hawaiian sailor, admires the opulent houses of the rich. He is particularly impressed by one house, which, while smaller than the rest, is “all finished and beautified like a toy.” To his surprise, he discovers that the elderly man who lives in this beautiful house is “heavy with sorrow” and sighs constantly. The elderly man tells Keawe that his house and all his fortune came from an imp who lives in a magic bottle. The imp will grant any wish that the owner of the bottle makes, but if the owner dies before he sells the bottle, “he must burn in hell forever.” The person who sells the bottle must always sell it for less than he paid for it. The elderly man tricks Keawe into buying the bottle for fifty dollars, which is all the money that Keawe has. Keawe attempts to discard the bottle or sell it for a profit, but it magically comes back to him.
When he returns to Hawaii, Keawe finds that his uncle and cousin have died, leaving him their land and a large sum of money. Resolving that he “may as well take the good along with the evil” of the bottle, Keawe has a beautiful house, called Bright House, built overlooking the ocean. His friend Lopaka persuades him to call the imp out of the bottle so that they can see what it looks like; although they are horrified at the appearance of the imp, Lopaka buys the bottle in order to enlist its power to obtain a schooner for himself.
Free of the bottle, Keawe lives in Bright House in “perpetual joy”; he could not “walk in the chambers without singing.” He sees a beautiful young woman, Kokua, bathing in the sea and instantly falls in love with her. She agrees to marry him, but then Keawe discovers that he has contracted leprosy. Unwilling to marry Kokua while he has this dread disease, Keawe resolves to buy the bottle again, although “ice ran in his veins” at the thought of the evil-looking imp. He goes in search of Lopaka, and although he cannot find his friend, he succeeds in tracing the bottle, which is now in the possession of a young white man who was desperate to pay back some money that he had embezzled and paid only two cents for the bottle. It appears that anyone who buys it from him for one cent will have no opportunity to sell it for a coin of less value. Nevertheless, Keawe buys the bottle and, again resolving to “take the good along with the evil,” wishes himself free of leprosy and marries Kokua.
In spite of Kokua’s beauty, Keawe must “weep and groan to think upon the price that he had paid for her” because he believes that he has “no better hope but to be a cinder forever in the flames of hell.” When he realizes that Kokua is blaming herself for his unhappiness, he tells her the whole story of the bottle. She tells him about a French coin, the centime, which is worth “five to the cent or thereabout,” and they go to Tahiti to sell the bottle for four centimes.
When they encounter unexpected difficulty in selling the bottle, Kokua exclaims, “A love for a love, and let mine be equalled with Keawe’s! A soul for a soul, and be it mine to perish!” Resolving to buy the bottle herself, she finds an old man and asks him to buy the bottle for four centimes, promising to buy it from him for three. She bravely fulfills her promise, but afterward in her imagination “all that she had heard of hell came back to her; she saw the flames blaze, and she smelled the smoke, and her flesh withered on the coals.” Not realizing that his wife now owns the bottle, Keawe condemns her for not participating in his joy at being rid of it. Angry at her and feeling unacknowledged guilt over the fate of the old man who he thinks owns the bottle, he accuses Kokua of disloyalty and goes out to carouse with some friends.
One of his drinking companions is a brutal white man who has been “a boatswain of a whaler—a runaway, a digger in gold mines, a convict in prisons.” The boatswain, who has a “low mind and a foul mouth,” encourages Keawe to drink until he runs out of money. Returning to his house for more money, Keawe sees Kokua with the bottle and realizes her sacrifice. He slips away before Kokua sees him and resolves to become the owner of the bottle for the third time. Although his soul is “bitter with despair,” he persuades the boatswain to buy the bottle for two centimes, promising to buy it from him for one. When Keawe attempts to fulfill his promise, the boatswain refuses to sell. Keawe reminds him that the owner of the bottle will go to hell, but the boatswain replies, “I reckon I’m going anyway . . . and this bottle’s the best thing to go with I’ve struck yet.” He goes away with the bottle, leaving Keawe and Kokua to the “peace of all their days in the Bright House.”
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