An Analysis Of Treasure Island

An Analysis Of Treasure Island

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Treasure Island: An Analysis
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a tale of adventure filled with exciting characters and set in exotic locales. This paper will present background information on both the novel and its author and analyze and discuss the major characters, themes and motifs. Stevenson was born the only child of a prosperous middle-class family in Edinburgh, Scotland, in November 1850. His father, Thomas, was a civil engineer who specialized in the design and construction of lighthouses. His mother, Margaret, was the daughter of a well-known clergyman (Livesey). Probably the two most important influences during Stevenson’s childhood were his family’s strict Presbyterian religion and his own poor health. During his frequent bouts with tuberculosis, his loving nurse, Alison Cunningham, liked to entertain him with stories of bloody deeds, hellfire, and damnation. This rendered him a frightened, guilt-ridden child and also apparently something of a little prude, a characteristic he certainly outgrew by the time he reached his late teens (Harvey).
Stevenson found the inspiration to write Treasure Island after drawing a treasure map with his twelve-year-old son, Lloyd (Sandison). Written as a memoir, the work opens with the line “Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-, and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow Inn, and the brown old Seamen, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof” (Stevenson 10). This opening befits Stevenson who had a “devotion to the art of letters and to the less sophisticated, though not necessarily childish, life of adventure” (Kiely 20). Stevenson would later reveal that the first fifteen chapters of Treasure Island were written in as many days (Swinnerton 64).
The main character of the story, a boy by the name of Jim Hawkins serves as the first-person narrator. The son of an innkeeper, Jim begins the tale with the arrival of a salty old ex-pirate to his family’s inn, the Admiral Benbow Inn. Jim is portrayed as very humble, never boasting about his many exciting and impressive deeds.

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Yet often impulsive, he is responsible for initiating the majority of the plot twists throughout the story. As the events unfold, Jim’s character changes dramatically showing increasing cleverness, courage, maturity, and perspective.
In the first few chapters, Jim is an easily frightened boy who is closely associated with home and family. Scared by the crusty old seaman Pew, Jim relies on his mother for protection. After his father dies, he embarks on a series of adventures and starts to think for himself which shows increasing initiative. Although Jim makes repeated mistakes, he learns from them, which demonstrates that he is maturing. He grows up quickly during the trip, starting out as the cabin boy and eventually naming himself captain after he reclaims the ship from the pirates. Although he is courageous, Jim’s individualism reminds us that he is still young.
The second most important character in Treasure Island is Captain Long John Silver. Silver is a very complex character and self-contradictory. He is cunning and mendacious, hiding his true intentions from Squire Trelawney while posing as the ship’s genial cook. He is very disloyal, shifting sides so frequently that the reader cannot be sure of his true affiliations. He is greedy and has an almost animal nature caring little about human relations, as illustrated by his cold-blooded murder of Tom Redruth.
Nonetheless, Silver is without question the most vital and charismatic character in the novel. Though lacking a leg, he moves swiftly and powerfully across unsteady decks and hoists himself over fences. His physical defect actually showcases his strength of character, as every step reveals his ability to overcome obstacles. Silver’s mental resolve is impressive: he is the only one of the pirates not to be spooked by Ben Gunn’s imitation of the dead Flint’s voice. He remains rational when faced with his men’s superstitions, driving them on to the treasure site. He demonstrates obvious leadership abilities, as he maintains control of his ragged and surly band of mutineers to the very end of their search despite heavy losses and suspicions of treachery. Some who have analyzed the book believe that Silver’s actions may have had a positive impact on Jim’s character, despite the negative effect he had on the story (Scott).
Doctor Livesey is another major character in Treasure Island. Dr. Livesey at first appears as an ideal authority figure for the young Jim. Jim entrusts the treasure map to Livesey because he is a respected and knowledgeable man. As the adventure unfolds Livesey’s actions suggest that Jim’s respect is merited, proving himself competent, clever, fair, and loyal. Livesey devises the brilliant plan of stalling the pirate brigade by sending Ben Gunn ahead to perform spooky imitations of their dead leader, Flint. He also concocts the ruse of sending the pirates on a wild-goose chase to find the treasure. Livesey is not afraid of confrontation and bravely fires upon the pirates at the treasure site. He is noble in his willingness to provide medical attention to the wounded pirates even though they are his enemies. He speaks kindly to them and seems to genuinely care for their health. More so than the Captain Smollett or Squire Trelawney, Livesey represents the best of the civilized world of men.
Despite his and valuable achievements, Livesey is simply not charismatic. He does what is reasonable, practical, and ethical, but never acts spontaneously as do the pirates and Jim. Livesey devises ingenious plans, but only puts them into practice if they are safe and efficient. On the whole, Livesey never risks anything and, therefore, Jim views him as good but not great. It is significant that while Jim gives a sentimental farewell to the memory of Silver at the end of his narrative, he omits mention of Livesey despite his importance in story. While Jim does not fit completely into Silver’s world, he does not fit into Livesey’s steady, practical world either.
The most obvious theme in Treasure Island is Jim’s search for a heroic role model. At the start of the novel Jim is a timid child, but by the end he has matured incredibly. He has outsmarted pirates, taken over a ship, and saved countless lives. Jim has become an adult in character even if his age does not reflect it. Like any maturing boy, Jim tries out various male role models. Jim’s father does not appear to be a significant role model. He passes away early in the novel and, even before his death, does not seem to have much effect on Jim’s life. Jim scarcely mentions his father in his account.
It could be expected that a local authority figure might act as role model for Jim. Dr. Livesey, for example, holds a high social status in the community and represents the rational world. When Jim finds the treasure map, he immediately thinks of Livesey while pondering his next move. Therefore, it initially appears as if Jim looks to Livesey as a heroic role model. Squire Trelawney, like the doctor, is another symbol of worldly authority. However, while both men are upstanding citizens, they do not captivate or inspire Jim. Once the pirates appear, Jim begins to pay close attention to their actions, attitudes, and appearance. His narration describes Silver with intensity and attention to detail. Soon, Jim is imitating some aspects of Silver’s behavior. In Chapter 25, he acts impulsively and bravely when he sneaks onto the pirates’ boat to recapture it (Stevenson 175-180). In Chapter 12, he deserts his own captain to explore on his own. He sails a pirate’s boat out to the anchored ship, kills the pirate Israel Hands, and names himself the new captain (Stevenson 149-154). Jim’s pirate side of is so apparent that Silver himself remarks that he reminds him of himself as a boy.
Throughout the book, Jim looks up to each of the key characters described in this paper and acts differently with every one. He never truly aligns himself to one heroic role model and, instead, learns different skills from each key character.
There are also other reoccurring motifs found in Treasure Island: one of the most apparent being solitude. Throughout the story Jim Hawkins experiences several periods of time on his own. Though Jim spends time with his family at the beginning of the novel and is later in the company of the captain’s men and the pirates, these intervals are punctuated by far more crucial periods where Jim is alone. For example, Jim is alone when he meets Pew, the pirate who delivers the black spot that sets the story in motion. He is alone in the apple barrel when he overhears information about the upcoming mutiny that enables him to save the rest of his party. He is alone when he meets Ben Gunn in the woods and learns the directions to the treasure. Jim is also alone when he sails in the coracle to cut the ship adrift, depriving the pirates of their means of escape. Throughout the novel, Jim’s periods of solitude and the events that occurred while he was on his own contribute significantly to his maturity.
The color black is another motif found in the story. Stevenson repeatedly associates the color black with the pirates. The pirate flag, the Jolly Roger, is black which is in sharp contrast with the colorful British flag, the Union Jack. The pirates also distribute black spots, which means death is imminent. Also, the pirate who discovers Billy in hiding at the Admiral Benbow is named Black Dog.
Treasure Island is one of the most beloved children’s adventure stories ever written. Stevenson’s timeless work has tied generations together and inspired the imaginations of millions. The thorough character analysis and presentation of the themes and motifs summarized in this paper clearly illustrates why.

Works Cited

Harvey, Alexander. "Life of Robert Louis Stevenson." Bartelby. 23 Mar. 2005. 9 Apr. 2008 .

Kiely, Robert. Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1964.

Livesey, Margot. "The Double Life of Robert Louis Stevenson." The Atlantic. Nov. 1994. 9 Apr. 2008 .

Sandison, Alan. "Robert Louis Stevenson." Books and Writers. 14 Sept. 2004. 9 Apr. 2008 .

Scott, Patrick, and Roger Mortimer. "Robert Louis Stevenson." Thomas Cooper Library. 19 July 2002. University of South Carolina. 9 Apr. 2008

Stevenson, Robert L. Treasure Island. 1883. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005.

Swinnerton, Frank. R.L. Stevenson; a Critical Study. New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915.
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