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The Gold Coin

by Alma Flor Ada

Summary

The Gold Coin questions our assumptions about what makes us happy and what makes us rich.

Juan makes his living as a thief. He hears Dona Josefa, an old woman, who works as a healer in her town, declare that she is the “richest woman in the world.” Juan follows her, determined to take her money, for he believes that the money will make him happy.

Read aloud video by Mr. Brace (reading begins at 0:51).

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The Gold Coin, by Alma Flor Ada, presents several philosophical issues that can be explored through class discussion. These issues involve notions of happiness, wealth, stealing, and giving. These themes are important to explore, especially in today’s society, where there is an increasing emphasis on material wealth. By exploring these philosophical issues and delving into a deeper understanding of our own individual views, one can hope to develop a stronger sense of community and intrinsic satisfaction.

Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with ads. Our society has twisted to place extreme emphasis on material wealth how we ought to derive happiness from that wealth. While some people relate “wealth” and being “rich” only to money, the concept of “wealth” can go far past finances. Friends, relationships, intellectual accomplishments, and societal contributions can all contribute to a “rich life.” It is important for students to examine the notions of wealth and giving. Many people argue that while we may not always have an endless supply of money to keep or give, our wells of kindness and compassion are bottomless and can be equally, if not more, valuable.

Stealing is an issue that The Gold Coin raises, and it is inherently linked to whenever we discuss matters of material wealth. While at first glance, the notion of stealing may seem black and white, several moral complications are worth exploring. While some members of our society enjoy great affluence, others are burdened with poverty. It can be disturbing to see the already affluent greedily hoarding. Thus, some people may justify stealing as a way to redistribute the wealth, so everyone has something. However, other people believe that since thievery is morally wrong, one can never be happy if they are doing something wrong, even if it improves their living conditions.

Many people argue that in order to understand our own happiness truly, we must be able to understand others’ happiness. They believe that happiness is rarely comprised of individual actions alone. Instead, we are social beings and rely on our community structure for support, encouragement, and, thus, happiness. Part of what makes us social beings is being attuned to how others are feeling. Instinctively, we often adopt whatever emotion is circulating. If members of a household are irritable one afternoon, that feeling is often contagious.

Conversely, we can raise our own spirits by making someone else feel happier. A man who has all the money in the world but no human interaction and relationships may not be able to sustain his happiness for long. While some people believe that each individual is responsible for his own happiness, others argue that as a community, we must look beyond our own immediate needs and desires to consider those around us, which in turn gives the individual power and a sense of belonging.

The questions for The Gold Coin serve as a launching point for deeper discussion. There are four categories of questions: those dealing with stealing, happiness, wealth, and finally, those dealing with giving. However, these issues are inherently linked, so it is natural for some overlap and exchange between themes. These issues are complex, and there are no clear-cut answers. What may seem right in one context may feel wrong in another. By exploring our own definitions and values and being exposed to others’ views, one hopes that students will develop stronger, more thought-out ideas and become stronger, more sensitive individuals and active members of society.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Stealing

Juan made his living as a thief, stealing money from others.

  1. Is stealing an acceptable way to make money?
  2. If one person has a lot of something, and another person has nothing, is it okay for the poorer person to take from the richer person so that they both have something?
  3. Is there ever a time when it is okay to steal?

Happiness

Juan followed Dona Josefa because he wanted to take her gold. He believed that money would make him happy.

  1. Was it the gold that made him happy at the end of the story?
  2. How can you tell he was happy?
  3. What kinds of things make you happy?
  4. How do you know when you are happy?
  5. What is happiness?

Wealth

Dona Josefa said that she was the “richest woman in the world.”

  1. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “rich”?
  2. What do you think Dona Josefa meant by the word?
  3. Can you be happy if you are poor?
  4. Can wealth include things other than money?

Giving

Dona Josefa gave her neighbors medicine and tea to make them feel better.

  1. Did Dona Josefa make her neighbors happy?
  2. Is happiness something you can give?
  3. Have you ever done something to make someone else happy? How did that make you feel?
  4. Is happiness something that can be used up?
  5. Is it possible to give all your happiness away?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Marissa Saltzman. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for The Gold Coin featuring a picture of a man's face in front of pastoral, Central American hills. The sun in the sky is replaced by a golden coin with large sunbeams. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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