Robert Louis Stevenson - The Bottle Imp: Character and Plot Summary

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The Bottle Imp is a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is a morality tale dealing greed and contentment.

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 Imp was published in Samoa in 1891.

Major Characters

Keawe the 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 covet.

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 centimes.

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.

See Judith Barton’s other literature summaries

Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev

 Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 

 H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau 


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