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The Gold Coin

By Alma Flor Ada, Atheneum


Juan makes his living as a thief. He hears Dona Josefa, an old woman and 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.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Marissa Saltzman

The Gold Coin, by Alma Flor Ada, presents several philosophic 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 increasing emphasis on material wealth. By exploring these philosophic 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, and deriving 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 whenever we discuss matters of material wealth. While at first glance, the notion of stealing may seem black and white, there are several moral complications that are worth exploring. While some members of our society enjoy great affluence, others are burdened with poverty. It can be disturbing to see greedy hoarding. Thus, some people may justify stealing as a way to redistribute the wealth so everyone has something. Other people, however, believe that since thievery is morally wrong, one can never be happy if they are doing something wrong, even if it improves their living condition.

Many people argue that in order to truly understand our own happiness, we must be able to understand happiness in others. They believe that happiness is rarely comprised of individual construction. 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 are able to 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 there to be some overlap and jumping 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, as well as being exposed to others' views, one hopes that students will develop stronger, more thought-out ideals, and will become stronger, more sensitive individuals and active members of society.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

By Marissa Saltzman


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

  1. Is stealing an ok way to make money?
  2. If one person has a lot of something, and another person has nothing, is it ok 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 ok to steal?


Juan followed Dona Josefa because he wanted to take her gold. He believed that the 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?


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?


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 use up?
  5. Is it possible to give all your happiness away?

This book module deals with ethics. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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