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The Bottle Imp

This short story by Robert Louis Stevenson is a variation on the theme of the Genie in the Bottle or the
Monkey’s Paw. It carries the same dark under current of all stories where wishes are made and granted
but at a great price.
The Bottle Impwas published in Samoa in 1891.
Major Characters
Keawethe main character of this story is a native of Hawaii. He is an educated, intelligent and God
fearing man. Stevenson describes him as “poor, brave and active”. He comes into possession of a
mysterious bottle containing an imp that grants wishes.
Lopaka is Keawe’s friend, confidant and traveling companion. Lopaka encourages Keawe to use his
new-found treasure for material gain.
Kokua is a beautiful maiden that Keawe desires with all his heart and soul. She loves Keawe and
desires nothing more than to be his wife and to love him.

Seated Demon by Vrubel 1890

Plot Summary
Keawe an Hawaiian islander, decides to take a vacation to San Francisco. While touring the city and
admiring the beautiful homes he notices one small and remarkably beautiful house that he begins to
The owner of the home beckons him in. Upon entering the home the old man feeds Keawe’s envy and
covetousness while showing him around the beautiful home.
As it turns out, the old man has a magic bottle containing an imp that will grant the holder all of his
wishes. He sells the bottle to Keawe at the very low price of fifty dollars.
There are, however, certain caveats that go with the bottle. The owner must not be in possession of
it when he dies or he will burn in hell for eternity. It can only be sold for less than what the current
owner has paid. And lastly, the owner must be content with what he has or evil will fall upon him.
Keawe takes the bottle back to the ship for the journey home. He is worried about what he has done.
After confiding the entire chain of events to his friend Lopaka, he is convinced by Lopaka that he
should make a wish for the very house that he wants. If this comes true, Lopaka will buy the bottle
from him so he can get the schooner that he wants.
Upon arriving home Keawe discovers that his uncle and nephew have died leaving him the heir to a
beautiful plot of land and exactly enough money to build the home of his dreams. Keawe is distraught
at the price that has been paid for the fulfillment of his wish. Lopaka buys the bottle and departs
leaving Keawe to his possessions.
Keawe accepts the good fortune and begins living a life of contentment until he sees the beautiful
maid, Kokua. He desires her over his own soul. He is granted her hand in marriage but before they can
be wed he discovers a leprous lesion on his body.
Realizing that he cannot marry Kokua in this condition, he decides that he must seek out the magic
bottle and purchase it back so that he can be cleansed and marry his love. When he finally tracks down
the bottle he finds that the price has dropped dramatically. The current owner has paid two cents. He
must sell it for one.
Keawe decides that he will forfeit his soul for Kokua and so he purchases the bottle. His leprosy is
healed but immediately slips into despondency when he begins to dwell on the eternal flames of hell.
His subsequent marriage to his beloved does not improve his demeanor.
He finally confesses his plight to his bride and to his delight she presents him with a plan to go to a
country where a penny is not the smallest coin. They will go to France and sell the bottle for four
Unfortunately they are unable to sell the bottle and Kokua, because of her love for Keawe decides that
she will secretly buy the bottle through an intermediary. She tells the intermediary the whole story
promising that she will buy it back from him after he obtains it. The intermediary buys it for four and
she in turn buys it for three. Keawe discovers this and convinces another intermediary to buy it for two
with the promise that Keawe will then buy it back from him for one centime. The intermediary is a
greedy and wicked man and once he obtains it refuses to sell the bottle back to Keawe.
Unable to convince the wicked man that he is facing damnation he watches as the man walks away
with the bottle. Keawe and Kokua are free to resume their lives in bliss.

Robert Louis Stevenson§ offered an interesting paradox in which you are offered to buy, for
whatever price you wish, a bottle containing a genie§ who will fulfill your every desire§. However,
there is a catch... The bottle must be resold for a price smaller than what you paid for it, or you will
have bad things done to you for eternity§.
Obviously, it would be a bad idea to buy it for 1¢, because you would have to give the bottle away, but
no one would accept the bottle knowing that he would be unable to get rid of it. Likewise, it would be
a bad idea to buy it for 2¢, and so on. However, at some reasonably large amount, it will always be
possible to find the next buyer, thus the bottle will be bought

The root of the problem§ is the assumption that everyone will try to avoid the bad outcome§ at all
costs. As Stevenson§ shows in the original story, that's not necessarily the case.
One possibility is that the buyer§ considers his own salvation§ less important than the things he can
wish for. A pragmatist§ (or a Vulcan§) could buy the bottle for an arbitrarily low price§, wish
for world peace§, and call it a day. Even if he gets stuck with the thing, this is a positive outcome§
in his belief system§.
Another outcome is that the buyer is doomed to suffer the penalty§ anyway, and so has no reason to
eschew§ the deal. In the original story, the bottle ends up with an old sailor§, who has lived an
unvirtuous§ life. He reasons that his life has damned§ him to hell already, so he might as well pay
one centime§ for the imp§, and at least make the rest of his life comfortable.