Treasure Island, narrated from the perspective of the characters Jim Hawkins and Dr Livesey, helps the readers walk through the lives of pirates and human desire to acquire wealth. Stevenson has dealt with various themes and literary techniques, making Treasure Island an enduring novel of piracy and adventure.
Treasure Island Themes
Adventure / Exploration
The story of Treasure Island revolves around adventure and exploration. The characters present in the novel are either pirates or people with a desire for exploration. As one observes the development of Jim, it is clear that some adventures now and then are needed for physical and mental development. During his journey, Jim learns essential lessons from his companions that ingrains personal integrity, self-confidence, and maturity. Through the young protagonist’s perspective, readers happened to witness various experiences of the sea voyage.
Coming of Age and Self-Discovery
Coming of Age and Self-Discovery could be seen as a significant theme because Jim undergoes many physical and mental changes through the novel. He starts as a young boy who takes orders at his father’s Inn. Soon, Jim has to deal with the harsh reality of life kindled with his desire for a sea voyage. However, as the story progresses, he turns from a scared and indecisive boy to a young man who skillfully chooses between good and bad. In the progress of saving his friends, he discovers his true potentials as he outwits the pirates, takes over a ship, and saves his friends.
Greed is another prominent theme of the novel that significantly exhibits the lives of pirates. The whole story revolves around the gold buried by an infamous pirate, Captain Flint. This secret caused enough trouble among his crew members, especially between Billy Bones and Long John Silver. They were overwhelmed by the treasure, and many end up killing each other. Those characters, led by their greed, face disastrous ends. On the contrary, Jim takes up the journey for a sense of pride and accomplishment than for gold.
Choosing between Good and Evil
Treasure Island, being an adventurous novel, deals with the good and evil sides of adventure. While the good ones turn out to be great explorers, the bad ones turn into rotten pirates. Jim, the novel’s protagonist, having lost his father at a young age, faces people from different walks of life. He decides on the path to take from the people he meets and eventually sees himself becoming a mature man. He has been allowed to choose the way he likes.
Treasure Island, for modern readers, is a see-through of a pirate’s life. Though there is no proper evidence or record available to prove it, R.L. Stevenson created a prototype for a pirate in the novel with Long John Silver. The novel depicts the language, addiction to rum, spendthrift lifestyle, and carefree attitude of the pirates. They act savages to some extent with their desire for gold. Some of the words and phrases they use in the novel are too obscure to understand, which presents the pirates’ society as a complex one.
Analysis of Key moments in Treasure Island
- Billy Bones, arrives at ‘Admiral Benbow Inn’
- Doctor Livesey warns Billy against drinking ‘Rum’ to stay alive.
- Billy dies of a stroke, and Jim collects the money he owes to his father and some papers from his sea chest.
- Jim brings his findings to Doctor Livesey at the squire’s house (a squire is a local lord).
- Upon finding that the papers contain a treasure map to Flint’s fortune, Squire Trelawney hires a ship and a crew for their voyage.
- Jim’s discovers the true nature and intention of the crew.
- The Hispaniola finally arrives at the island, and Captain Smollett sends two-thirds of the crew onto the island.
- Captain Smollett and Doctor Livesey ambush the remaining sailors and lock them below decks and go ashore to find an abandoned fort.
- Jim meets Ben Gunn and gets his support.
- Jim gets back to Hispaniola and brings it to the North Inlet.
- Israel Hands tries to kill Jim but gets killed by Jim
- Long John Silver’s crew takes Jim as a hostage and hunts for the buried gold only to find that the place is empty with no tressures.
- Long John Silver decides to change sides right in time and escapes his disloyal crew with Jim and his saviours, Doctor Livesey, Abraham Gray, and Ben Gunn.
- Finally, they find that the treasure is with Ben Gunn in his cave.
- They all carry the treasure back to Hispaniola and home.
Style, Tone and Figurative Language
Treasure Island carries suspense and tension in the tone. The narrators of the novel Jim and Dr Livesey uses description that unfolds fear and anxiety over each moment in the novel. As the main narrator, Jim gives the description of events that stirs the actions in the novel. Billy Bones sea chest, getting hold of the map, starting the journey to the island, discovering the true nature of the crew members, Jim’s experience on the island, running for life, and finally returning to the mainland. As each incident unfolds, the narrator’s tone changes from creating fear to anxiety to suspense to tension in the readers.
Throughout the story, the readers are put on the edge to wonder, “who’s going to get to the treasure first?” and “Will Jim remain as good boy or take the wrong turn?”.
The mood in the book is similar to the tone of the story, dark and complex. Jim encounters as many problems as possible, and he describes them as he felt. The best example is when he witnessed the Cumming plan of the evil pirates as he listened to Long John Silver’s plan. His mood and emotional turmoil are apparent as he is quoted as saying in Treasure Island,
“… I would not have shown myself for all the world, but lay there, trembling and listening, in the extreme of fear and curiosity;”Treasure Island, Chapter 10
Stevenson has well planned how the mood is carried out in the novel to ensure the readers’ curiosity to read further. As readers capture the mood, they will feel as if they are witnessing the events independently. Another incident where Jim creates fear is when he wanders on his own and hears some human voices approaching him:
“This put me in great fear, and I crawled under cover of the nearest live-oak, and squatted there, hearkening, as silent as a mouse.” (Chapter 14)
Treasure Island was first published as a series. Thus, the events of the story are chronicled through the perspective of a young boy as Jim mentions at the very beginning of the novel:
“QUIRE 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…”Treasure Island, Chapter 1
The chapters stand alone with inconclusive endings that leave the reader curious to keep reading the next chapter. Through the distinguished use of diction and lifestyle, Stevenson draws a line between the life of the civilized people like the Squire, Dr Livesey, Captain Smollett, and the others with the pirates. The individual chapters with unique tone and mood give life to this tale.
Symbols in Treasure Island
Treasure Island is a novel of adventures and piracy. Thus, Stevenson has used many symbols in the novel that lay the path for the story’s progress. Some important ones include the black spot, the treasure map, Flint’s pointer, flags, rum, pirate songs, or a sea chanty. These symbols adeptly woven into the adventurous tale of Jim Hawkins makes his experiences onboard the Hispaniola as impressive as it has been to the readers across ages.
What is the message of Treasure Island?
Jim Hawkins life and death experiences at a very young age is a message that indicates the need for adventures as it seems essential for growth and development. During his time at Treasure Island, Jim learns life-changing skills that ingrain integrity, self-confidence, and maturity.
What is the significance of the documents Jim finds in Treasure Island?
The documents Jim finds from Billy Bones Sea Chest is the key to find the buried treasures of the infamous Pirate Captain Flint. Flint has buried the gold he has accumulated over the year in a secret island and made a note of it on the map.
What does the Black Spot symbolize in Treasure Island?
The Black Spot symbolizes the impending death of a pirate in Treasure Island. In the world of pirates, it represents a verdict of guilt or judgment. A black spot is a circular piece of paper or card that is black on one side and bears a message on the other. It causes much fear, for it means the pirate who receives it will be removed from leadership or killed outright if required.
Who helps Jim on the Strange Island?
Jim goes to explore the strange Island alone. At this time, he comes across a man who almost lost his human appearance due to his loneliness on the Island for years. He happens to be Ben Gunn, a pirate from Captain Flint’s crew who was marooned on the Island by his fellow mates.
What are the things that represent the life of the Pirates?
The pirates are filthy people who live to enjoy their life. Some of the things in the novel that denote the way they lead their lives are the pirate songs, rum, and the black spot.