Treasure Island

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Symbols and Themes

Duty—“Dooty is dooty,” as Silver often states, mimicking Captain Smollett of the Hispaniola. However, both Silver and Smollett have different conceptions of what duty is and to whom or what they owe it. To Smollett, Jim, and the rest of the good hands, duty is owed to God, as well as one’s family, friends, home, crew, captain and country. It is an observation of the whole, apart from which one is nothing. Duty acts as an adhesive tape, uniting the individual to the whole and allowing the whole to function efficaciously. To Silver, however, his duty is to himself and his desires alone. He and the other pirates operate according to a principle of selfishness, self-preservation, and self-styled codes (as in the code of “gentlemen of fortune”). They have no sense of duty before God; each acknowledges only a duty to preserve his own neck. Because Silver is the craftiest of the pirates, he is the ablest at seeing the way the cards have been dealt and acting accordingly­—in his own interests, of course. Jim and Silver are similar in the sense that both are bold and creative. Yet, Jim accepts his duty before God, country and friends, whereas Silver accepts only a duty and allegiance to himself.

“Fifteen Men on the Dead Man’s Chest”—This song is sung by every pirate, from Billy Bones to the men of Long John Silver’s crew, and may be considered the anthem of piracy. It is used by Stevenson as a means of distinguishing pirates from honorable seamen and should conjure in the reader both feelings of dread and curiosity. Like the famed title character of Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, the pirates of Stevenson’s Treasure Island (exemplified by Silver) are simultaneously alluring and offensive. Jim’s reaction to Billy Bones is understood to be the general, natural reaction of most readers: He is repelled by Bones and yet, for some inexplicable reason, remains sympathetic to the man. The same is true for Silver: He is able to impress himself on the...

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Essays About Treasure Island