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Literature / The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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This is a 1927 novel by the mysterious B. Traven, and the source material for the very famous Humphrey Bogart film of the same title. Fred Dobbs is an gringo down on his luck in Mexico, looking for work just as the oil boom dies. A chance meeting with an old prospector in a ratty flophouse leads the two of them, along with an acquaintance from Dobbs' last job, on a search for gold in the high mountains. When they find it, they realize that their troubles are only beginning...


This book provides examples of:

  • Author Filibuster: The narrator takes time out to give his opinions on the Catholic Church, the rich, and colonial governments. (He's not a fan of any of them). On one occasion, the headman of an Indian village delivers a page and a half long sermon on the futility of seeking gold and the value of good company, good farmland and good livestock.
  • Bandito: Gold Hat's gang gets a whole chapter to themselves, and other bandits show up at different times.
  • Death by Materialism: Dobbs.
  • Gold Fever: A driving force in the plot, as well as the lengthy anecdotes (practically short stories themselves) Howard recounts of valuable mines of history and the disaster they brought their owners. The experienced Howard seems mostly immune to it, remaining rational throughout, but Dobbs and Curtin both fall under its spell. Dobbs is the only one who turns to killing to make sure he comes out on top, however, and it doesn't end well for him. Lacaud seems obsessed with finding a million dollar strike, and is still roaming the wilderness looking for it when the protagonists head back to civilization.
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  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Lacaud is treated as the odd man out when he approaches the group with the intention of joining them. After a while they start to pity him, having decided his search for the mother lode in these mountains is hopeless.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: "Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don't need badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón (bastard) and ching' tu madre (fuck your mother)! Come out there from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you."
  • Manipulative Bastard: Pat McCormick is an oilfield contractor who gets foreigners (who aren't covered by Mexican labor laws) to work for him by pretending to be a Comrade who's just trying to stay afloat and help some fellow working men out. He uses this to get them to work longer and harder hours, then absconds with their pay, often convincing them that the fault is with the dirty oil barons delaying payments, and to come out on another contract with him in the meantime.
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  • Off with His Head!: Dobbs is decapitated.
  • Prospector: All three main characters, but Howard in particular exemplifies the "old and grizzled" stereotype of the trope. Lacaud is still fairly young, but shows all the signs of turning into Howard in 30 years.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Dobbs gradually grows into this role in the group as The Cynic viewpoint, where it gets so bad that he generates most of the conflict in the story because of his opportunity to become somebody.
  • Token Good Teammate: Curtin, being the only one who wouldn't consider killing his comrades. Admittedly, he does kill off a few bandits (but that was purely in self-defense), and he insists that all three of them are legitimately entitled to their share that they worked hard for. He won't even kill Dobbs after the latter has expressed his intentions to kill him and abscond with the gold (which move he regrets later). At the end, Howard admits that had he been in Dobbs' place he might have done the same thing.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Many characters say 'funking' a lot.