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. 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...
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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