[Billy Bones's] stories were what frightened people worst of all. Dreadful stories they were--about hanging, and walking the plank, and storms at sea, and the Dry Tortugas, and wild deeds and places on the Spanish Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea, and the language in which he told these stories shocked our plain country people almost as much as the crimes that he described. [...] People were frightened at the time, but on looking back they rather liked it; it was a fine excitement in a quiet country life, and there was even a party of the younger men who pretended to admire him, calling him a "true sea-dog" and a "real old salt" and such like names, and saying there was the sort of man that made England terrible at sea. (1.10)
It's only appropriate, given that Robert Louis Stevenson is a writer, that he assigns so much magical power to language and storytelling. Billy Bones is charismatic and exciting because he tells amazing pirate stories – ones much like the one we are reading. Billy Bones foreshadows what's coming down the road for Jim. By placing this outlandish, larger-than-life pirate in the middle of quiet English society, Stevenson is really highlighting how different Jim's future with the pirates will be from the quiet life he's led up until now.
"You'd be as rich as kings if you could find it, and you know it's here, and you stand there skulking. There wasn't one of you dared face Bill, and I did it--a blind man! And I'm to lose my chance for you! I'm to be a poor, crawling beggar, sponging for rum, when I might be rolling in a coach! If you had the pluck of a weevil in a biscuit you would catch them still." (5.25)
This amazing outburst of hatred for his fellow pirates emerges from Pew, the blind man who comes looking for Billy Bones after Bones chased off Black Dog with his sword. The "it" Pew is talking about is, of course, Flint's treasure. We can see what's wrong with pirate society in the way Pew addresses his fellow pirates: it's all about personal gain rather than teamwork. Pew is filled with loathing for the other pirates, who lack "the pluck of a weevil in a biscuit." He cares only about "[his] chance" to be "rolling in a coach" and has no patience for any man who stands in the way of his personal ambition.
The squire and I were both peering over his shoulder as he opened it, for Dr. Livesey had kindly motioned me to come round from the side-table, where I had been eating, to enjoy the sport of the search. On the first page there were only some scraps of writing, such as a man with a pen in his hand might make for idleness or practice. One was the same as the tattoo mark, "Billy Bones his fancy"; then there was "Mr. W. Bones, mate," "No more rum," "Off Palm Key he got itt," and some other snatches, mostly single words and unintelligible. I could not help wondering who it was that had "got itt," and what "itt" was that he got. A knife in his back as like as not. (6.30)
Doctor Livesey is opening the packet of papers that Jim found in Billy Bones's sea chest. They find a few bits of writing that catch Jim's interest and imagination. As Jim speculates about "who it was that had 'got itt,' and what 'itt' was that he got, he is encouraging us to imagine along with him what this could mean. But by putting Billy Bones's spelling of "itt" in quotation marks, Jim is also pointing out the odd and uneducated way Billy Bones expresses himself. Language becomes another way for Stevenson to suggest the wacky, alien world of pirate society for his readers.
Well, sir, I thought I had only found a cook, but it was a crew I had discovered. Between Silver and myself we got together in a few days a company of the toughest old salts imaginable--not pretty to look at, but fellows, by their faces, of the most indomitable spirit. I declare we could fight a frigate. (7.6)
This is an excerpt from Squire Trelawney's letter to Doctor Livesey. Unlike Doctor Livesey's three chapters of first-person narration, which don't seem that different in tone from Jim's, Squire Trelawney really sounds like a different character. His use of language helps characterize him, cluing us in to his misplaced overconfidence. His language is full of emphatic statements like, "I declare we could fight a frigate" (a kind of ship). He says he has found "the toughest old salts imaginable," fellows "of the most indomitable spirit." Well, of course they're tough – they're pirates.
The stranger kept hanging about just inside the inn door, peering round the corner like a cat waiting for a mouse. Once I stepped out myself into the road, but he immediately called me back, and as I did not obey quick enough for his fancy, a most horrible change came over his tallowy face, and he ordered me in with an oath that made me jump. As soon as I was back again he returned to his former manner, half fawning, half sneering, patted me on the shoulder, told me I was a good boy and he had taken quite a fancy to me. (12-3)
This sneering stranger is Black Dog, and he's trying to ambush his former shipmate Billy Bones at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Black Dog is like a pale imitation of Long John Silver. And like Israel Hands, he is unable to keep his "sneering" manner off his face, so even his flattery rings false. These efforts to get on Jim's good side prove that Black Dog isn't stupid, but he's not as smart as the real thing, Long John Silver.
"You see the mounds? I come here and prayed, nows and thens, when I thought maybe a Sunday would be about doo. It weren't quite a chapel, but it seemed more solemn like; and then, says you, Ben Gunn was short-handed--no chapling, nor so much as a Bible and a flag, you says."
So he kept talking as I ran, neither expecting nor receiving any answer. (15.54-5)
As Ben Gunn and Jim travel across the island, Gunn keeps narrating as though he is alone and doesn't expect a response from his audience. He is clearly used to talking to himself, which reminds us that he has been alone for three years. Stevenson is amazingly skilled at using language to suggest character. Here, we definitely get the sense that Ben Gunn has gotten a little weird during his years of solitude.
"Now," resumed Silver, "here it is. You give us the chart to get the treasure by, and drop shooting poor seamen and stoving of their heads in while asleep. You do that, and we'll offer you a choice. Either you come aboard along of us, once the treasure shipped, and then I'll give you my affy-davy, upon my word of honour, to clap you somewhere safe ashore. Or if that ain't to your fancy, some of my hands being rough and having old scores on account of hazing, then you can stay here, you can. We'll divide stores with you, man for man; and I'll give my affy-davy, as before, to speak the first ship I sight, and send 'em here to pick you up. " (20.37)
Long John Silver is offering Captain Smollett a deal. (The Captain, of course, will have none of it.) We find this an interesting example of Long John Silver's unusual speech, which is a weird mix of slang and officialese. He promises to "clap" them somewhere safe or else to hail a boat and "send 'em here to pick you up." But at the same time, he also promises his "affy-davy" (affidavit, which means oath) to abide by any deal they strike. Long John Silver's language is a puzzle, just like his character: he's got this odd mix of highfalutin' words ("affy-davy") and slang ("clap") that makes it difficult to place him.
"The black spot! I thought so," [Long John Silver] observed. "Where might you have got the paper? Why, hillo! Look here, now; this ain't lucky! You've gone and cut this out of a Bible. What fool's cut a Bible?" (29.10)
Of all the people we might think would respect a Bible, Long John Silver would be the last. As usual, his motives are unclear. We know he is frightened of what appears to be a ghost (but is actually Ben Gunn) later on in the chapter, so he is at least a little bit superstitious. But he's also clearly using this Bible thing to tease poor young, feverish Dick Johnson unmercifully about being cursed. Long John Silver is punishing Dick for giving him the black spot by frightening him half to death.
Indeed, on a second glance, it seemed impossible to fancy that the body was in a natural position. But for some disarray (the work, perhaps, of the birds that had fed upon him or of the slow-growing creeper that had gradually enveloped his remains) the man lay perfectly straight--his feet pointing in one direction, his hands, raised above his head like a diver's, pointing directly in the opposite. (31.24)
As Long John Silver, George Merry, Tom Morgan, Dick Johnson, some nameless dude, and Jim all go searching for treasure, they stumble across a skeleton, which morbidly turns out to be pointing directly toward the treasure. This skeleton is the most literal example of the way that the island itself has become a kind of language. As the pirates and the good guys attempt to find the treasure and fight one another, they keep trying to read the island's clues to find its riches. In this particular language, Ben Gunn proves the only true expert. He's not courageous or intelligent, but he's the only one who knows the island's secrets well enough to have found the treasure on his own.
"And now, sir," continued the doctor, "since I now know there's such a fellow in my district, you may count I'll have an eye upon you day and night. I'm not a doctor only; I'm a magistrate; and if I catch a breath of complaint against you, if it's only for a piece of incivility like tonight's, I'll take effectual means to have you hunted down and routed out of this. Let that suffice." (1.16)
Doctor Livesey is a local judge as well as a doctor. In that capacity, he has words with Billy Bones after a run-in at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Because they operate at sea, we rarely see pirates coming up against actual agents of the law. Who in this novel seems most afraid of legal punishment? Why?
"Heard of [Captain Flint]!" cried the squire. "Heard of him, you say! He was the bloodthirstiest buccaneer that sailed. Blackbeard was a child to Flint. The Spaniards were so prodigiously afraid of him that, I tell you, sir, I was sometimes proud he was an Englishman." (6.22)
One odd historical detail of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries is that, far from being outside the law, pirates were often secretly sponsored by governments of opposing European powers. So English pirates would board Spanish, French, and Dutch ships in the hopes of ruining their foreign trade. This is why a rabid patriot like Squire Trelawney can admit to admiring a pirate like Captain Flint.
All the time he was jerking out these phrases he was stumping up and down the tavern on his crutch, slapping tables with his hand, and giving such a show of excitement as would have convinced an Old Bailey judge or a Bow Street runner. My suspicions had been thoroughly reawakened on finding Black Dog at the Spy-glass, and I watched [Long John Silver] narrowly. But he was too deep, and too ready, and too clever for me, and by the time the two men had come back out of breath and confessed that they had lost the track in a crowd, and been scolded like thieves, I would have gone bail for the innocence of Long John Silver. (8.32)
Ah, Long John Silver, what a master conman he is. When Jim observes known pirate Black Dog in Long John Silver's establishment, he immediately assumes LJS is also a pirate. But LJS is so skilled at pretending to be a gentleman that Jim is taken in immediately. Do you think Long John Silver would really be able to retire into an ordinary gentleman's life, as he claims to want to do after pulling this job? Can you imagine him settling down as the owner of a bar somewhere, just hanging out and pouring other people rum?
"Gentlemen of fortune," returned the cook, "usually trusts little among themselves, and right they are, you may lay to it. But I have a way with me, I have. When a mate brings a slip on his cable--one as knows me, I mean--it won't be in the same world with old John. There was some that was feared of Pew, and some that was feared of Flint; but Flint his own self was feared of me." (11.14)
It's because pirates have so little trust among themselves that they are constantly ruining their own plans: witness O'Brien the pirate, killed by one of his own comrades. This is why pirate "democracy" can be possible in name only; the most feared pirate will always be elected captain, regardless of merit.
"Davis was a man too, by all accounts," said Silver. "I never sailed along of him; first with England, then with Flint, that's my story; and now here on my own account, in a manner of speaking. I laid by nine hundred safe, from England, and two thousand after Flint. That ain't bad for a man before the mast--all safe in bank. 'Tain't earning now, it's saving does it, you may lay to that. Where's all England's men now? I dunno. Where's Flint's? Why, most on 'em aboard here, and glad to get the duff--been begging before that, some on 'em. " (11.3)
This is the key point that distinguishes Long John Silver from other pirates: he has vision for the future. He puts aside money to keep himself financially secure. In what other ways does Long John Silver's unusual ability to plan demonstrate itself?
"Well," said the other, "but all the other money's gone now, ain't it? You daren't show face in Bristol after this."
"Why, where might you suppose it was?" asked Silver derisively.
"At Bristol, in banks and places," answered his companion.
"It were," said the cook; "it were when we weighed anchor. But my old missis has it all by now. And the Spy-glass is sold, lease and goodwill and rigging; and the old girl's off to meet me. I would tell you where, for I trust you, but it'd make jealousy among the mates." (11.7-11)
Long John Silver is also the only pirate in the novel who is not alone in the world: his "old missis," his wife, is helping him take his money out of Bristol to some unknown location. We would give a million dollars to meet the woman who married Long John Silver. She must be amazingly patient. Do we see any signs of Long John Silver's personal loyalty or ability to form emotional attachments beyond these vague references to his "old missis"?
I believe the silly fellows must have thought they would break their shins over treasure as soon as they were landed, for they all came out of their sulks in a moment and gave a cheer that started the echo in a faraway hill and sent the birds once more flying and squalling round the anchorage. (13.23)
Many of the pirates are incredibly childlike in their behavior: quick to feel joy, quick to quake with fear, and quick to flare up in anger. They make Jim, who is an actual child (or at least a teenager) seem positively mature by comparison.
"For thirty years," [Israel Hands] said, "I've sailed the seas and seen good and bad, better and worse, fair weather and foul, provisions running out, knives going, and what not. Well, now I tell you, I never seen good come o' goodness yet. Him as strikes first is my fancy; dead men don't bite; them's my views--amen, so be it." (26.22)
No wonder pirates can never trust one another and can never relax. Israel Hands sums up pirate philosophy as: kill first to prevent yourself from being killed. He has never seen anyone profit from goodness. But this also goes to show Long John Silver's point that you are who you associate with: Israel Hands has to live on edge like this because he's surrounded by pirates. If you are a good man surrounded by good people, surely good can come to you?
"That's your sort, is it?" [Long John Silver] added, returning his pipe to his mouth. "Well, you're a gay lot to look at, anyway. Not much worth to fight, you ain't. P'r'aps you can understand King George's English. I'm cap'n here by 'lection. I'm cap'n here because I'm the best man by a long sea-mile. You won't fight, as gentlemen o' fortune should; then, by thunder, you'll obey, and you may lay to it!" (28.36)
When Long John Silver first sees signs that George Merry wants to sabotage his captaincy, his response is that they are too afraid to fight him, so he'll hang on to the captaincy as long as he likes. It seems that what makes a good pirate leader is charisma. These pirates are all so superstitious and suspicious of one another that they will only listen to leaders who frighten them. They don't understand any rule but fear.
"Ax your pardon, sir," returned one of the men; "you're pretty free with some of the rules; maybe you'll kindly keep an eye upon the rest. This crew's dissatisfied; this crew don't vally bullying a marlin-spike; this crew has its rights like other crews, I'll make so free as that; and by your own rules, I take it we can talk together. I ax your pardon, sir, acknowledging you for to be captain at this present; but I claim my right, and steps outside for a council." (28.38)
The pirates have rules, and this pirate calls on one of these to demand that Long John Silver await the decision of a council of his crewmen. But these rules seem to apply irregularly. They aren't really rules at all; they only come up when it suits the pirates to change the way things are going. Again, this raises the question of how you can ever hope to rule a bunch of outlaws.
All the time he lived with us the captain made no change whatever in his dress but to buy some stockings from a hawker. One of the cocks of his hat having fallen down, he let it hang from that day forth, though it was a great annoyance when it blew. I remember the appearance of his coat, which he patched himself upstairs in his room, and which, before the end, was nothing but patches. He never wrote or received a letter, and he never spoke with any but the neighbours, and with these, for the most part, only when drunk on rum. The great sea-chest none of us had ever seen open. (1.12)
The captain in this passage is Billy Bones. The funny thing about his appearance is that he's living this incredibly miserly existence and trying to keep a low profile. But how much more obvious can you be as the only sailor in a small town? Of course his buddies are going to find him.
Well, mother was upstairs with father and I was laying the breakfast-table against the captain's return when the parlour door opened and a man stepped in on whom I had never set my eyes before. He was a pale, tallowy creature, wanting two fingers of the left hand, and though he wore a cutlass, he did not look much like a fighter. I had always my eye open for seafaring men, with one leg or two, and I remember this one puzzled me. He was not sailorly, and yet he had a smack of the sea about him too. (3)
Jim's observations of people's appearances are intriguing because they are often indecisive. How can a man be both sailorly and not sailorly at the same time? This kind of description engages our curiosity and keeps us reading.
A strong smell of tobacco and tar rose from the interior, but nothing was to be seen on the top except a suit of very good clothes, carefully brushed and folded. They had never been worn, my mother said. Under that, the miscellany began--a quadrant, a tin canikin, several sticks of tobacco, two brace of very handsome pistols, a piece of bar silver, an old Spanish watch and some other trinkets of little value and mostly of foreign make, a pair of compasses mounted with brass, and five or six curious West Indian shells. I have often wondered since why he should have carried about these shells with him in his wandering, guilty, and hunted life. (4.17)
Jim can see Billy Bones's material possessions, but he can't see inside his head. By focusing on appearances instead of on psychology, Jim's narration is leaving much more room for the reader's imagination to work. It's pretty exciting to join Jim in wondering why Billy Bones carried these shells with him "in his wandering, guilty, and hunted life."
I had never seen the squire so near at hand. He was a tall man, over six feet high, and broad in proportion, and he had a bluff, rough-and-ready face, all roughened and reddened and lined in his long travels. His eyebrows were very black, and moved readily, and this gave him a look of some temper, not bad, you would say, but quick and high. (6.7)
The Squire's temper is indeed "quick and high": look how quickly he takes against Captain Smollett when he perceives that the captain is disagreeing with his judgment. Here we find a character who looks exactly like what he is: a feisty, temperamental man. What are the limits of Jim's abilities of observation? Are there characters (besides Long John Silver) who Jim can't read?
I was monstrously touched--so would you have been--and, out of pure pity, I engaged him on the spot to be ship's cook. Long John Silver, he is called, and has lost a leg; but that I regarded as a recommendation, since he lost it in his country's service, under the immortal Hawke. He has no pension, Livesey. Imagine the abominable age we live in! (7.5)
Squire Trelawney is such an easy mark: tell him a sob story about a veteran with no pension and he'll hire him on the spot. Why does Stevenson decide to include Squire Trelawney's lengthy letter in the body of Jim's narration? What effect does this have on the tone of this section of the novel?
I forgot to tell you that Silver is a man of substance; I know of my own knowledge that he has a banker's account, which has never been overdrawn. He leaves his wife to manage the inn; and as she is a woman of colour, a pair of old bachelors like you and I may be excused for guessing that it is the wife, quite as much as the health, that sends him back to roving. (7.11)
This is a moment of casual racism from Squire Trelawney. Long John Silver's wife is a woman of color, which appears to be the reason (according to Trelawney) that Long John Silver might want to leave home. First of all, the joke's on Trelawney: Long John Silver's wife is going to help him set up comfortably somewhere once he retires from pirating. Long John Silver is actually earning money so that he can get back to her. Second, Squire Trelawney's prejudices are a large part of what gets him and his friends into trouble in the first place: it's his assumptions about veterans that make him initially trust Long John Silver, much to his distress later on in the novel. So to conclude: Squire Trelawney is an idiot.
Now, to tell you the truth, from the very first mention of Long John in Squire Trelawney's letter I had taken a fear in my mind that he might prove to be the very one-legged sailor whom I had watched for so long at the old Benbow. But one look at the man before me was enough. I had seen the captain, and Black Dog, and the blind man, Pew, and I thought I knew what a buccaneer was like--a very different creature, according to me, from this clean and pleasant-tempered landlord. (8.5)
"I thought I knew what a buccaneer was like": famous last words. There is some irony to the fact that we get our modern image of pirates precisely from this "clean and pleasant-tempered landlord," Long John Silver. What does this description suggest about the appearance of the other pirates like Black Dog? How do they differ from Long John Silver?
"There," John would add, "you can't touch pitch and not be mucked, lad. Here's this poor old innocent bird o' mine swearing blue fire, and none the wiser, you may lay to that. She would swear the same, in a manner of speaking, before chaplain." And John would touch his forelock with a solemn way he had that made me think he was the best of men. (10.20)
We discuss Long John Silver's moral lessons using Captain Flint the parrot in "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory." What also strikes us about this passage is Jim's final sentence: "John would touch his forelock with a solemn way he had that made me think he was the best of men." Does the tone of this reflection sound angry at his younger self? Regretful? What do you think Future Jim's feelings are about his past self's faith in Long John Silver?
I was surprised at the coolness with which John avowed his knowledge of the island, and I own I was half-frightened when I saw him drawing nearer to myself. He did not know, to be sure, that I had overheard his council from the apple barrel, and yet I had by this time taken such a horror of his cruelty, duplicity, and power that I could scarce conceal a shudder when he laid his hand upon my arm. (12.12)
Jim's new knowledge of what a complicated man Long John Silver really is seems to magnify his power over him. We find it fascinating that Jim succeeds in tricking even an arch-conman like Long John Silver: he says he can "scarce conceal a shudder," but Jim does conceal it. Jim really seems to have the makings of a conman himself. For more on the curious similarities we find between Jim and Long John Silver, see "Characters: Long John Silver" for more.
I could now see that he was a white man like myself and that his features were even pleasing. His skin, wherever it was exposed, was burnt by the sun; even his lips were black, and his fair eyes looked quite startling in so dark a face. Of all the beggar-men that I had seen or fancied, he was the chief for raggedness. (15.9)
Jim is describing his first meeting with Ben Gunn, who is looking about as tattered and tragic as possible. Jim is incapable of judging Ben's appearance correctly because Ben is so far outside Jim's personal experience of people. This is one problem with judging by appearances: you can only do so when you have a wide range of experience to use as comparisons.
A moment afterwards [Doctor Livesey] had entered the block house and with one grim nod to me proceeded with his work among the sick. He seemed under no apprehension, though he must have known that his life, among these treacherous demons, depended on a hair; and he rattled on to his patients as if he were paying an ordinary professional visit in a quiet English family. His manner, I suppose, reacted on the men, for they behaved to him as if nothing had occurred, as if he were still ship's doctor and they still faithful hands before the mast. (30.13)
While Jim is Long John Silver's hostage, Doctor Livesey comes by to treat the sick pirates. He does this out of kindness, at risk to his own life. It seems believable that Doctor Livesey has a professional manner he can just fall into automatically, as though treating these pirates is like treating "a quiet English family." It's also interesting that one man's behavior can shape the behavior of those around him, further proof of Long John Silver's point that you have to be careful who you hang around with because they will rub off on you.
What a supper I had of it that night, with all my friends around me; and what a meal it was, with Ben Gunn's salted goat and some delicacies and a bottle of old wine from the Hispaniola. Never, I am sure, were people gayer or happier. And there was Silver, sitting back almost out of the firelight, but eating heartily, prompt to spring forward when anything was wanted, even joining quietly in our laughter--the same bland, polite, obsequious seaman of the voyage out. (33.44)
Long John Silver's "bland, polite" manner seems to be a bit like Doctor Livesey's professional behavior with the pirates: something he can switch on and off depending on the situation. But this leaves us wondering what's going on underneath that bland manner, a question Stevenson never answers.
But [Billy Bones] broke in cursing the doctor, in a feeble voice but heartily. "Doctors is all swabs," he said; "and that doctor there, why, what do he know about seafaring men? I been in places hot as pitch, and mates dropping round with Yellow Jack, and the blessed land a-heaving like the sea with earthquakes – what do the doctor know of lands like that? – and I lived on rum, I tell you. It's been meat and drink, and man and wife, to me; and if I'm not to have my rum now I'm a poor old hulk on a lee shore, my blood'll be on you, Jim, and that doctor swab." (3.4)
Billy Bones has spent many evenings shocking and impressing the quiet country folk of Jim's town with his tales of distant places and adventures. Here, after his stroke, we get the full story: he's lived through terrible situations and has used rum to drown his sorrows. Now he's become so dependent on rum that he demands it even though it will kill him. This contrast between how fun pirate adventures sound and how awful they really are may explain why we can enjoy the story of Treasure Island even as Jim ends the novel swearing that it was horrible and he would never repeat his adventures. (Btw, "Yellow Jack" is yellow fever.)
Mr. Arrow, first of all, turned out even worse than the captain had feared. He had no command among the men, and people did what they pleased with him. But that was by no means the worst of it, for after a day or two at sea he began to appear on deck with hazy eye, red cheeks, stuttering tongue, and other marks of drunkenness. Time after time he was ordered below in disgrace. [...] He was not only useless as an officer and a bad influence amongst the men, but it was plain that at this rate he must soon kill himself outright, so nobody was much surprised, nor very sorry, when one dark night, with a head sea, he disappeared entirely and was seen no more. (10.7-9)
Mr. Arrow can't maintain discipline with the crew because he's drunk all the time. Long John Silver clearly has no trouble identifying and manipulating Mr. Arrow's weakness, just like he exploits Squire Trelawney's blind patriotism and Jim's vanity. Mr. Arrow's weakness isn't so different from the others'; it's just more visible and difficult to ignore. This is why we find Jim's contemptuous conclusion that Mr. Arrow is better off dead a little bit hard to take: it's not like Jim has been so perfect.
"Why, how many tall ships, think ye, now, have I seen laid aboard? And how many brisk lads drying in the sun at Execution Dock?" cried Silver. "And all for this same hurry and hurry and hurry. You hear me? I seen a thing or two at sea, I have. If you would on'y lay your course, and a p'int to windward, you would ride in carriages, you would. But not you! I know you. You'll have your mouthful of rum tomorrow, and go hang." (11.25-7)
Long John Silver offers this diatribe to Israel Hands when Hands tries to hurry him into mutinying before they reach the island. He points out that he's got experience and a plan on his side, but the other pirates are so impatient that they want everything right now. Long John Silver's go-to symbol for this self-indulgence is their "mouthful of rum tomorrow": they would rather have a shot of rum tomorrow than carriages in the future. And Silver proves correct: as soon as they fall to open warfare with the good guys, all the pirates get drunk, leaving them vulnerable to more sober minds.
"My lads," said Captain Smollett, "I've a word to say to you. This land that we have sighted is the place we have been sailing for. Mr. Trelawney, being a very open-handed gentleman, as we all know, has just asked me a word or two, and as I was able to tell him that every man on board had done his duty, alow and aloft, as I never ask to see it done better, why, he and I and the doctor are going below to the cabin to drink your health and luck, and you'll have grog served out for you to drink our health and luck. I'll tell you what I think of this: I think it handsome. And if you think as I do, you'll give a good sea-cheer for the gentleman that does it." (12.19)
Captain Smollett tricks the pirates into holding off their mutiny temporarily in the simplest way possible: he offers them a round of drinks in the name of Squire Trelawney, and they are so cheerful that they wait to rise up against their leaders. The thing that surprises us to no end about this book is that the pirates are so cheap! They are like children, easily bought off. Their willingness to get drunk at a moment's notice allows Captain Smollett and Squire Trelawney to get the drop on the mutineers and take the Hispaniola for themselves before rowing to the island fort.
"Ah, well," said [Ben Gunn], "but I had--remarkable pious. And I was a civil, pious boy, and could rattle off my catechism that fast, as you couldn't tell one word from another. And here's what it come to, Jim, and it begun with chuck-farthen on the blessed grave-stones! That's what it begun with, but it went further'n that; and so my mother told me, and predicked the whole, she did, the pious woman! But it were Providence that put me here. I've thought it all out in this here lonely island, and I'm back on piety. You don't catch me tasting rum so much, but just a thimbleful for luck, of course, the first chance I have. I'm bound I'll be good, and I see the way to. And, Jim"--looking all round him and lowering his voice to a whisper--"I'm rich." (15.22)
Ben Gunn has spent three years on Treasure Island, and all this time alone has made him decide to go back to God (he's "back on piety"). But we can already see signs that he's just waiting for the chance to go back to his old ways. Even though he swears that "you don't catch me tasting rum so much," he'd take "a thimbleful for luck [...] the first chance [he has]." And indeed, the first chance Gunn has to drink a thimbleful of rum, he doesn't stop there: he goes on a nineteen-day bender that leaves him penniless. We find the foreshadowing of this future self-indulgence right here in his speech on the island.
"Well now, you look here, that was a good lay of yours last night. I don't deny it was a good lay. Some of you pretty handy with a handspike-end. And I'll not deny neither but what some of my people was shook--maybe all was shook; maybe I was shook myself; maybe that's why I'm here for terms. But you mark me, cap'n, it won't do twice, by thunder! We'll have to do sentry-go and ease off a point or so on the rum. Maybe you think we were all a sheet in the wind's eye. But I'll tell you I was sober; I was on'y dog tired; and if I'd awoke a second sooner, I'd 'a caught you at the act, I would. He wasn't dead when I got round to him, not he." (20.24)
Long John Silver comes to make a deal with Captain Smollett (which Captain Smollett promptly rejects) in response to an incident that has "shook" all of his men, even the unshakeable Long John Silver. While all his men were drunk on rum the night before, someone crept into their camp and killed one of them. Even the disciplined Long John Silver can't keep his men sober enough to stand guard. This inability to keep watch because of drunkenness proves to be a repeated theme: not only does Ben Gunn come around and kill a pirate their first night on the island, but Jim Hawkins walks right into their fort unnoticed. It's lucky for the pirates that Jim has no clue what he is doing.
"Come aboard, Mr. Hands," I said ironically.
He rolled his eyes round heavily, but he was too far gone to express surprise. All he could do was to utter one word, "Brandy." (25.11-2)
Like Billy Bones, Israel Hands is physically badly off (from a stab wound rather than a stroke) but he still wants nothing more than alcohol. The dependence on alcohol leaves all of these characters in a sorry state not only because they're drunk all the time, and therefore careless, but also because when they're sick or injured, they become totally dependent on whoever is nearest to them. In both Billy Bones and Israel Hands's cases, that would be Jim.
I went into the cellar; all the barrels were gone, and of the bottles a most surprising number had been drunk out and thrown away. Certainly, since the mutiny began, not a man of them could ever have been sober. (25.16)
When Jim takes control of the Hispaniola once more, he discovers what's been pretty clear from the pirates' behavior (their singing on the beach, their inability to keep watch): they've been drunk pretty much this whole time. We have to wonder, if the pirates had been at all sober during their time on Treasure Island, would the outcome of the novel have been entirely different?
"Drunk or raving," said [Doctor Livesey].
"Right you were, sir," replied Silver; "and precious little odds which, to you and me."
"I suppose you would hardly ask me to call you a humane man," returned the doctor with a sneer, "and so my feelings may surprise you, Master Silver. But if I were sure they were raving--as I am morally certain one, at least, of them is down with fever--I should leave this camp, and at whatever risk to my own carcass, take them the assistance of my skill." (34.9-11)
In our discussion of "Quotes: Duty," we use this passage to explore Doctor Livesey's dedication to treating the pirates even at the risk of his own life. Here we will focus on the fact that the three remaining pirates on Treasure Island are either drunk or crazed (or both). Now that these pirates have lost the treasure, the ship, and their leaders, their drunkenness is perhaps like Billy Bones's: an effort to avoid acknowledging a horrible reality. We find their descent into total drunkenness and/or sickness both pitiful and tragic. This detail makes the decision of the good guys to leave them behind on Treasure Island seem all the more cruel and ethically problematic to us. What do you think?
[Billy Bones] wandered a little longer, his voice growing weaker; but soon after I had given him his medicine, which he took like a child, with the remark, "If ever a seaman wanted drugs, it's me," he fell at last into a heavy, swoon-like sleep, in which I left him. (3.19)
There is a repeated theme in Treasure Island that illness makes us dependent and childlike. First there is Billy Bones's weakness, in which he takes his medicine "like a child." Then there is poor, feverish Dick Johnson, who begins babbling and clutching his Bible toward the end of the novel. He totally goes to pieces as he gets sick and follows the other pirates like a child. How does illness make us more childlike? What does this analogy suggest about how Stevenson feels about childhood?
I lost no time, of course, in telling my mother all that I knew, and perhaps should have told her long before, and we saw ourselves at once in a difficult and dangerous position. Some of [Billy Bones's] money--if he had any--was certainly due to us, but it was not likely that our captain's shipmates, above all the two specimens seen by me, Black Dog and the blind beggar, would be inclined to give up their booty in payment of the dead man's debts. (4.1)
As soon as Billy Bones enters the Admiral Benbow Inn, Jim shows signs of the secretiveness and independent thinking that will characterize his behavior on the island. Jim hasn't told his mother about Billy Bones's origins, although he thinks in passing that "perhaps [he] should have told her long before." This reflection sounds a lot like Jim's passing regret over leaving the fort without permission. Even in this tiny exchange, we can see foreshadowing of how Jim is going to develop as a character over the course of the novel.
It was on seeing that boy that I understood, for the first time, my situation. I had thought up to that moment of the adventures before me, not at all of the home that I was leaving; and now, at sight of this clumsy stranger, who was to stay here in my place beside my mother, I had my first attack of tears. I am afraid I led that boy a dog's life, for as he was new to the work, I had a hundred opportunities of setting him right and putting him down, and I was not slow to profit by them. (7.13)
Jim is leaving the nest, and even though he's ready to go, he still regrets it a little bit once he realizes that it's actually happening. "This clumsy stranger," his mother's apprentice, is a symbol of Jim's own childhood, which he is now leaving behind to go on a treasure hunt. We wish our own transitions from childhood to adulthood had come with gold bars.
I got bodily into the apple barrel, and found there was scarce an apple left; but sitting down there in the dark, what with the sound of the waters and the rocking movement of the ship, I had either fallen asleep or was on the point of doing so when a heavy man sat down with rather a clash close by. The barrel shook as he leaned his shoulders against it, and I was just about to jump up when the man began to speak. It was Silver's voice, and before I had heard a dozen words, I would not have shown myself for all the world, but lay there, trembling and listening, in the extreme of fear and curiosity, for from these dozen words I understood that the lives of all the honest men aboard depended upon me alone. (10.30)
It sounds like Jim is feeling a rush about the fact that "the lives of all the honest men aboard depended on [him] alone." Suddenly, he's going from cabin boy, the lowliest member of the crew, to the savior of all. One reason Jim always finds himself in the right place at the right time is because he's so young. He's small and childlike enough to climb right into an apple barrel and fall asleep, which sounds like something we would have done when we were kids. Jim childlike nature is the very thing that saves the "honest men" on board the Hispaniola (or at least, many of them) from death at the hands of the pirates.
I began to recall what I had heard of cannibals. I was within an ace of calling for help. But the mere fact that he was a man, however wild, had somewhat reassured me, and my fear of Silver began to revive in proportion. I stood still, therefore, and cast about for some method of escape; and as I was so thinking, the recollection of my pistol flashed into my mind. As soon as I remembered I was not defenceless, courage glowed again in my heart and I set my face resolutely for this man of the island and walked briskly towards him. (15.4)
Jim is recalling tall tales and freaking himself out as he sees the then unknown Ben Gunn in the distance. But he suddenly remembers that he's not "defenceless" – he is armed – and he takes confidence. We can contrast Jim's ability to overcome his fear with the cowardice of the pirates, who believe the forests are haunted in the later chapters of the novel. Jim is slowly becoming more mature than full-grown men like Tom Morgan and George Merry. Something about pirate life seems to keep them from maturing. For all of their violence and toughness, they still seem like self-indulgent and easily frightened children.
Well, now that I had found the boat, you would have thought I had had enough of truantry for once, but in the meantime I had taken another notion and become so obstinately fond of it that I would have carried it out, I believe, in the teeth of Captain Smollett himself. This was to slip out under cover of the night, cut the Hispaniola adrift, and let her go ashore where she fancied. I had quite made up my mind that the mutineers, after their repulse of the morning, had nothing nearer their hearts than to up anchor and away to sea; this, I thought, it would be a fine thing to prevent, and now that I had seen how they left their watchmen unprovided with a boat, I thought it might be done with little risk. (22.35)
These guerilla actions against the pirates seem to come completely out of the blue. Sure, Jim says he "thought it would be a fine thing to prevent" the mutineers from escaping, but it's quite a jump from that to rowing out to the boat and setting it adrift. Do we see any signs that Jim is learning how to fight pirates from experience, or is he just naturally gifted at waging war against a small band of bloodthirsty criminals?
As for the scheme I had in my head, it was not a bad one in itself. I was to go down the sandy spit that divides the anchorage on the east from the open sea, find the white rock I had observed last evening, and ascertain whether it was there or not that Ben Gunn had hidden his boat, a thing quite worth doing, as I still believe. But as I was certain I should not be allowed to leave the enclosure, my only plan was to take French leave and slip out when nobody was watching, and that was so bad a way of doing it as made the thing itself wrong. But I was only a boy, and I had made my mind up. (22.15)
There is only one other moment in the book we can think of when Jim tries to justify his actions – in a scene we discuss in the "Quotes: Friendship." He must feel that leaving his friends behind with no warning was the worst thing he did, because this is the one act he explains away as that of "a boy." Do you buy the explanation that Jim sneaks off because he is "only a boy"? Does it matter to you why he leaves his friends? By the way, taking "French leave" means abandoning your post without permission – a slur on French sailors, as you can imagine.
I had not then seen a coracle, such as the ancient Britons made, but I have seen one since, and I can give you no fairer idea of Ben Gunn's boat than by saying it was like the first and the worst coracle ever made by man. But the great advantage of the coracle it certainly possessed, for it was exceedingly light and portable. (22.27)
This quote is one of the few moments when Jim alludes to his later life after the novel ("I have seen one since"). What on earth could Jim be doing with his time that he has now observed "a coracle, such as the ancient Britons made?" Why do you think Stevenson introduces this time lag between the Jim narrating Treasure Island and the Jim experiencing Treasure Island?
"Come in, Jim," said the captain. "You're a good boy in your line, Jim, but I don't think you and me'll go to sea again. You're too much of the born favourite for me" (33.41)
It's a little unclear what Captain Smollett means by "the born favourite." Does he mean Jim is too lucky? Too independent? Too disobedient? Certainly we can see why a by-the-book captain like Smollett would find Jim too much of a handful to manage, but we're also intrigued by Captain Smollett's description of Jim as "a good boy in [his] line." This implies that there are other boys like Jim out there. Perhaps this is another subtle suggestion to us by Stevenson to imagine ourselves like Jim or in his place.
"I'll show these rogues that I'm an honest woman," said my mother. "I'll have my dues, and not a farthing over. Hold Mrs. Crossley's bag." And she began to count over the amount of the captain's score from the sailor's bag into the one that I was holding.
It was a long, difficult business, for the coins were of all countries and sizes--doubloons, and louis d'ors, and guineas, and pieces of eight, and I know not what besides, all shaken together at random. The guineas, too, were about the scarcest, and it was with these only that my mother knew how to make her count. (4.19-20)
Jim's mother is the one who first opens Billy Bones's sea chest, but what makes it OK is that she is looking for the money he owes her. This means Jim manages to come by the treasure map without stealing – he's still a good kid, and certainly better than the pirates. But the other thing that's key about this scene is that it introduces something new and exotic into the story line. Billy Bones's coins "of all countries and sizes" demonstrates that he is widely traveled. This foreshadows that Jim is going to go on a voyage of his own, and perhaps even that he will wind up with his own collection of coins from around the world.
In the meantime, the squire and Captain Smollett were still on pretty distant terms with one another. The squire made no bones about the matter; he despised the captain. The captain, on his part, never spoke but when he was spoken to, and then sharp and short and dry, and not a word wasted. He owned, when driven into a corner, that he seemed to have been wrong about the crew, that some of them were as brisk as he wanted to see and all had behaved fairly well. As for the ship, he had taken a downright fancy to her. "She'll lie a point nearer the wind than a man has a right to expect of his own married wife, sir. But," he would add, "all I say is, we're not home again, and I don't like the cruise." (10.21)
Captain Smollett's honesty with Squire Trelawney sets him apart from the easy flattery of men like Long John Silver and Israel Hands. It's because Captain Smollett is willing to be disagreeable that we know he is trustworthy.
"Stand by to go about," the parrot would scream.
"Ah, she's a handsome craft, she is," the cook would say, and give her sugar from his pocket, and then the bird would peck at the bars and swear straight on, passing belief for wickedness. "There," John would add, "you can't touch pitch and not be mucked, lad. Here's this poor old innocent bird o' mine swearing blue fire, and none the wiser, you may lay to that. She would swear the same, in a manner of speaking, before chaplain." And John would touch forelock with a solemn way he had, that made me think he was the best of men. (10.19-20)
Long John Silver uses Captain Flint the parrot to teach Jim a lesson about keeping good company: hanging around pirates will make you look and sound like one. And indeed, this lesson does seem to explain the morally ambiguous choice the good guys make to maroon the three pirates on Treasure Island. After all, isn't marooning a specifically pirate punishment? Even the good guys have spent too much time around Long John Silver to be totally morally pure.
"Right you are," said Silver; "rough and ready. But mark you here, I'm an easy man--I'm quite the gentleman, says you; but this time it's serious. Dooty is dooty, mates. I give my vote--death. When I'm in Parlyment and riding in my coach, I don't want none of these sea-lawyers in the cabin a-coming home, unlooked for, like the devil at prayers. Wait is what I say; but when the time comes, why, let her rip!" (11.31)
Here, Long John Silver is drastically redefining duty. His duty is to his pirate crewmates, which mean that he votes for killing Captain Smollett, Squire Trelawney and the other good guys. The problem with telling people to do their duty as a moral lesson is that we all have different notions of duty. To Long John Silver, apparently killing people for the profit of his pirate friends is a kind of duty.
"Most likely Trelawney's own men," said the doctor; "those he had picked up for himself before he lit on Silver."
"Nay," replied the squire. "Hands was one of mine."
"I did think I could have trusted Hands," added the captain.
"And to think that they're all Englishmen!" broke out the squire. "Sir, I could find it in my heart to blow the ship up." (12.37-40)
Squire Trelawney's patriotism blinds his judgment. When Long John Silver tells Trelawney that he lost his leg in a battle under Admiral Hawke, Trelawney believes him. Here Squire Trelawney is disappointed in the pirates not just because they want to murder him, but because they are all Englishmen. Squire Trelawney's idealism makes him an easy mark for Long John Silver, which is perhaps meant to be a jab against idealism.
"Gray," resumed Mr. Smollett, a little louder, "I am leaving this ship, and I order you to follow your captain. I know you are a good man at bottom, and I dare say not one of the lot of you's as bad as he makes out. I have my watch here in my hand; I give you thirty seconds to join me in." [...]
There was a sudden scuffle, a sound of blows, and out burst Abraham Gray with a knife cut on the side of the cheek, and came running to the captain like a dog to the whistle.
"I'm with you, sir," said he. (16.31-5)
We find this description of Abraham Gray coming to Captain Smollett "like a dog to the whistle" oddly dismissive and jeering. Isn't it a good thing that Abraham Gray is remembering his duty? Is Stevenson making a subtle point that obedience for its own sake is cowardly? Or are we making a mountain out of a molehill with this line?
Poor old fellow, [Tom Redruth] had not uttered one word of surprise, complaint, fear, or even acquiescence from the very beginning of our troubles till now, when we had laid him down in the log-house to die. He had lain like a Trojan behind his mattress in the gallery; he had followed every order silently, doggedly, and well; he was the oldest of our party by a score of years; and now, sullen, old, serviceable servant, it was he that was to die. (18.11)
Here, Doctor Livesey is describing Tom Redruth's death. All of Doctor Livesey's adjectives are pretty condescending: "poor old fellow," "he had followed every order," "sullen, old serviceable servant." The only thing he comments on is Redruth's value as a servant. There seems to be some subtle class prejudice in this description. What do you think of the way Stevenson depicts Squire Trelawney's three faithful, doomed servants?
And just at that moment came the first news of the attack.
"If you please, sir," said Joyce, "if I see anyone, am I to fire?"
"I told you so!" cried the captain.
"Thank you, sir," returned Joyce with the same quiet civility. (21.16-19)
Speaking of condescending depictions of servants, Joyce is so well-trained and obedient that he has to double check with Captain Smollett to make sure he has permission to fire against the pirates who are trying to kill him. Is this just a moment of comic relief? Why include Redruth, Joyce, and Hunter in the novel at all when they have scarcely anything to do?
I was greatly elated with my new command, and pleased with the bright, sunshiny weather and these different prospects of the coast. I had now plenty of water and good things to eat, and my conscience, which had smitten me hard for my desertion, was quieted by the great conquest I had made. I should, I think, have had nothing left me to desire but for the eyes of the coxswain as they followed me derisively about the deck and the odd smile that appeared continually on his face. It was a smile that had in it something both of pain and weakness--a haggard old man's smile; but there was, besides that, a grain of derision, a shadow of treachery, in his expression as he craftily watched, and watched, and watched me at my work. (26.37)
Jim is now self-declared captain of the Hispaniola, with the very tricky Israel Hands as his crew. Hands is intriguing because he's almost as smart as Long John Silver, but he can't quite hide what he's thinking ("a grain of derision, a shadow of treachery"). Or is it that Jim is slowly getting better at reading people? Is Jim's taking possession of the Hispaniola a sign of growing maturity? Do you see signs that Jim's character changes over the course of the novel?
"Is that you, John Silver? What brings you here, man?"
"Come back to my dooty, sir," returned Silver.
"Ah!" said the captain, and that was all he said (33.41-3)
This moment is one of Long John Silver's rare missteps. He knows nobody believes in his humble, friendly act anymore, but he still puts it on. Why does he even bother to tell Captain Smollett that he has "come back to [his] dooty [duty]" in Chapter 33? What duty could Long John Silver mean here?
"Ask your pardon, sir, you would be very wrong," quoth Silver. "You would lose your precious life, and you may lay to that. I'm on your side now, hand and glove; and I shouldn't wish for to see the party weakened, let alone yourself, seeing as I know what I owes you. But these men down there, they couldn't keep their word--no, not supposing they wished to; and what's more, they couldn't believe as you could." (34.12)
Long John Silver is telling Doctor Livesey that to try to treat the sick pirates now would be madness – they would kill him in a second. But perhaps the most tragic thing about Long John Silver's comment is that the pirates "couldn't believe as [Doctor Livesey] could" keep his promise to help. In other words, they are so used to breaking promises that they can't imagine anyone being able to keep them. This is the key problem with the way pirates live in Stevenson's world: because they are violent and untrustworthy, they assume that everyone around them will be that way too, so they can't see or understand goodness anymore. Is Long John Silver any different? Do you see any good in his character?
All the crew respected and even obeyed [Long John Silver]. He had a way of talking to each and doing everybody some particular service. To me he was unweariedly kind, and always glad to see me in the galley, which he kept as clean as a new pin, the dishes hanging up burnished and his parrot in a cage in one corner. (10.14-5)
Obviously it's in Long John Silver's interests to have everybody like him. But does that negate the fact that he has "a way of talking to each" sailor that makes the ship seem like a better place? Even if Long John Silver has ulterior motives, he is still being nice. His ability to be kind, even if it's a mask for his true feelings, makes him a more likable character than pirates like Pew or Israel Hands, who are so cruel that they can't even pretend to be decent.
"'Tain't much use for fools, you may lay to it--that, nor nothing," cried Silver. "But now, you look here: you're young, you are, but you're as smart as paint. I see that when I set my eyes on you, and I'll talk to you like a man."
You may imagine how I felt when I heard this abominable old rogue addressing another in the very same words of flattery as he had used to myself. I think, if I had been able, that I would have killed him through the barrel. Meantime, he ran on, little supposing he was overheard. (11.4-5)
Here's the moment when Jim realizes he's been tricked, when he sees Long John Silver use the same flattery ("you're as smart as paint") on Dick Johnson that he's been using on Jim. But how does Long John Silver know which words will charm each individual? What experiences have come together to forge such a gifted diplomat? Sure, even though this scene fills Jim with so much rage that he "would have killed [Long John Silver] through the barrel" if he could, seeing evidence of Long John Silver's craftiness in action only increases his interest to us.
This was my second folly, far worse than the first, as I left but two sound men to guard the house; but like the first, it was a help towards saving all of us. (22.17)
Here Jim has to justify the fact that he's leaving Squire Trelawney alone to guard the injured Captain Smollett. His explanation is that this second desertion (the first being when he slipped off the Hispaniola with the pirates and met Ben Gunn) turned out to be "a help towards saving all of us." But Jim couldn't have known that his desertion would prove so pivotal and beneficial at the time that he ran away. This is one of only two instances we can think of when Jim bothers to explain his actions from the more knowledgeable perspective of his adult self. (The other is discussed in "Quotes: Youth.") Is Jim's explanation sufficient to justify his abandonment of his friends? Why does he choose not to take his comrades into his confidence? If he had told them his plans, how would they have responded? How might things have turned out differently?
[O'Brien's body] had pitched, as I have said, against the bulwarks, where he lay like some horrible, ungainly sort of puppet, life-size, indeed, but how different from life's colour or life's comeliness! In that position I could easily have my way with him, and as the habit of tragical adventures had worn off almost all my terror for the dead, I took him by the waist as if he had been a sack of bran and with one good heave, tumbled him overboard. He went in with a sounding plunge; the red cap came off and remained floating on the surface; and as soon as the splash subsided, I could see him and Israel lying side by side, both wavering with the tremulous movement of the water. O'Brien, though still quite a young man, was very bald. There he lay, with that bald head across the knees of the man who had killed him and the quick fishes steering to and fro over both. (27.7)
The force of the Hispaniola's impact with the shore tips the ship at an angle so that O'Brien's dead body has fallen right against the sides of the ship. When Jim pushes his body into the water, it lands right on top of Israel Hands's. We put this in the "Friendship" section for the slightly morbid reason that the two men, who were such mortal enemies while alive, are lying together like friends in death. The significance of whatever argument drove Hands to murder O'Brien appears gone now that both are dead.
"Did any of you gentlemen want to have it out with me?" roared Silver, bending far forward from his position on the keg, with his pipe still glowing in his right hand. "Put a name on what you're at; you ain't dumb, I reckon. Him that wants shall get it. Have I lived this many years, and a son of a rum puncheon cock his hat athwart my hawse at the latter end of it? You know the way; you're all gentlemen o' fortune, by your account. Well, I'm ready. Take a cutlass, him that dares, and I'll see the colour of his inside, crutch and all, before that pipe's empty." (28.34)
It's impossible to rule pirates by friendship and decency because they don't trust each other. The only thing that will truly keep them in line is a show of force – and even that will only last for so long. In this scene, Long John Silver is responding to George Merry's claim that he is no longer fit to be captain now that they have lost the Hispaniola and have no treasure to show for it.
It was no wonder the men were in a good humour now. For my part, I was horribly cast down. Should the scheme he had now sketched prove feasible, Silver, already doubly a traitor, would not hesitate to adopt it. He had still a foot in either camp, and there was no doubt he would prefer wealth and freedom with the pirates to a bare escape from hanging, which was the best he had to hope on our side. (31.6)
We've already established that Long John Silver has no loyalty (except possibly to his wife and parrot), so Jim cannot rely on his friendship to keep him alive while he's a hostage of the pirates. Have you observed any signs of unmotivated affection or good feeling coming from Long John Silver? Is it possible to imagine a friend for this man? What does friendship require that Long John Silver does not have with either his pirate crew or with Jim?
"Ah," said Silver, "it were fortunate for me that I had Hawkins here. You would have let old John be cut to bits, and never given it a thought, doctor."
"Not a thought," replied Dr. Livesey cheerily. (33.30-1)
But it's not jut Silver who has learned to be so practical about death. Doctor Livesey agrees that, if Jim had not been along on the final treasure hunt, he and the rest of his friends would have left Long John Silver to deal with the disappointed pirates by himself. Do you observe any changes in Doctor Livesey's moral compass over the course of the novel? Is he the same person at the end of the trip that he was at the beginning?
The three fellows must have been watching us closer than we thought for, as we soon had proved. For coming through the narrows, we had to lie very near the southern point, and there we saw all three of them kneeling together on a spit of sand, with their arms raised in supplication. It went to all our hearts, I think, to leave them in that wretched state; but we could not risk another mutiny; and to take them home for the gibbet would have been a cruel sort of kindness. The doctor hailed them and told them of the stores we had left, and where they were to find them. But they continued to call us by name and appeal to us, for God's sake, to be merciful and not leave them to die in such a place. (34.16)
This scene, in which the three remaining pirates are begging to be taken in by their enemies, is hard to read. We discuss the moral ambiguities of the scene in "What's Up with the Ending?" Here we want to ask why Stevenson elects to include the details that the men on the shore "continued to call [them] them by name and appeal to us, for God's sake, to be merciful"? What is the tone of this final chapter? Does the book offer us any thoughts on our responsibility to our fellow man, or does Stevenson leave us to draw our conclusions about the morality of this choice?
Of Silver we have heard no more. That formidable seafaring man with one leg has at last gone clean out of my life. [...] It is to be hoped [that he lives in comfort], I suppose, for his chances of comfort in another world are very small. (34.25)
Speaking of moral ambiguity at the end of the novel, despite all of Long John Silver's terrible deeds, the excitement he lends to the book buys him a reprieve. He disappears, and we have no idea what happens to him. But what do we make of Jim's final thought that "it is to be hoped" that Long John Silver has found comfort because "his chances for comfort in another world are very small"? In other words, Jim thinks Long John Silver is eventually going to hell, but before that he wants him to be happy. Where do we find signs of growing sympathy for Jim toward Long John Silver?
It was long ere I could close an eye, and heaven knows I had matter enough for thought in the man whom I had slain that afternoon, in my own most perilous position, and above all, in the remarkable game that I saw Silver now engaged upon--keeping the mutineers together with one hand and grasping with the other after every means, possible and impossible, to make his peace and save his miserable life. He himself slept peacefully and snored aloud, yet my heart was sore for him, wicked as he was, to think on the dark perils that environed and the shameful gibbet that awaited him. (29.43)
Jim's reluctant admiration for his main antagonist, Long John Silver, is really a testament to the strength of Silver's character. Stevenson is working hard to give us a wicked character that we can still (perhaps reluctantly) root for, and he succeeds in part by representing Jim's sympathy for the man. After all, if we identify with Jim, then we should share his sympathies too, right?
"Now, that bird," [Long John Silver] would say, "is, maybe, two hundred years old, Hawkins--they live forever mostly; and if anybody's seen more wickedness, it must be the devil himself. She's sailed with England, the great Cap'n England, the pirate. She's been at Madagascar, and at Malabar, and Surinam, and Providence, and Portobello. She was at the fishing up of the wrecked plate ships. It's there she learned 'Pieces of eight,' and little wonder; three hundred and fifty thousand of 'em, Hawkins! She was at the boarding of the viceroy of the Indies out of Goa, she was; and to look at her you would think she was a babby. But you smelt powder--didn't you, cap'n?" (10.18)
Here, the tales Long John Silver is spinning are all about his delightful parrot, Captain Flint. Silver uses his tales of derring-do to keep Jim Hawkins interested and to persuade Jim to sympathize with him. It's interesting, though: these tales are meant to distract and intrigue Jim, but they work on us, too. It's partly Long John Silver's gift with language that makes him so appealing to the reader, no matter the terrible things he does over the course of the novel.
There was not a breath of air moving, nor a sound but that of the surf booming half a mile away along the beaches and against the rocks outside. A peculiar stagnant smell hung over the anchorage--a smell of sodden leaves and rotting tree trunks. I observed the doctor sniffing and sniffing, like someone tasting a bad egg.
"I don't know about treasure," he said, "but I'll stake my wig there's fever here." (13.10-12)
According to 18th century medicine, fever is mostly caused by bad air, hence Doctor Livesey's concerns. There is foreshadowing here in the fact that the first glimpse of the island is automatically associated with sickness. It's as though the treasure itself were making people sick – certainly, it's going to make people crazy. The "fever" the doctor smells could just as easily be gold fever, which will drive nearly everyone on the island to madness and murder before the novel ends.
I now felt for the first time the joy of exploration. The isle was uninhabited; my shipmates I had left behind, and nothing lived in front of me but dumb brutes and fowls. I turned hither and thither among the trees. Here and there were flowering plants, unknown to me; here and there I saw snakes, and one raised his head from a ledge of rock and hissed at me with a noise not unlike the spinning of a top. Little did I suppose that he was a deadly enemy and that the noise was the famous rattle. (14.3)
The only time Jim seems to really be having fun on the trip is when he's off by himself in the forest. We're also intrigued that this is one of the few times when the island appears benign and pleasant. But much like Long John Silver, that appearance is deceptive. Being from England, Jim doesn't realize that the snakes he observes are rattlesnakes, a "deadly enemy." The island's geography is intimately tied to the plot's development – check out our section on "Setting" for further reflections on this.
From the side of the hill, which was here steep and stony, a spout of gravel was dislodged and fell rattling and bounding through the trees. My eyes turned instinctively in that direction, and I saw a figure leap with great rapidity behind the trunk of a pine. What it was, whether bear or man or monkey, I could in no wise tell. It seemed dark and shaggy; more I knew not. But the terror of this new apparition brought me to a stand. (15.1)
As we soon find out, this figure is neither bear nor monkey, but Ben Gunn. Here Stevenson is recreating the first-contact scene popular in earlier sea-voyage stories like Robinson Crusoe: Jim is meeting what might be a Native American, and he's terrified by the prospect. But of course, it's not actually a new kind of person at all: it's yet another pirate, the pathetic, marooned Ben Gunn.
"Doctor, I'm no coward; no, not I--not so much!" and he snapped his fingers. "If I was I wouldn't say it. But I'll own up fairly, I've the shakes upon me for the gallows. You're a good man and a true; I never seen a better man! And you'll not forget what I done good, not any more than you'll forget the bad, I know. And I step aside--see here--and leave you and Jim alone. And you'll put that down for me too, for it's a long stretch, is that!" (30.37)
Long John Silver doesn't fear any kind of battle, nor does he fear his fellow men. But he's afraid of exploring that final horizon, death – specifically death at the hands of the law. Does this suggest some kind of fear of religious judgment? We can't be sure, but we have some thoughts on the subject in our "Character Analysis" of the pirate crew.
And thereupon we all entered the cave. It was a large, airy place, with a little spring and a pool of clear water, overhung with ferns. The floor was sand. Before a big fire lay Captain Smollett; and in a far corner, only duskily flickered over by the blaze, I beheld great heaps of coin and quadrilaterals built of bars of gold. That was Flint's treasure that we had come so far to seek and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell. Yet there were still three upon that island--Silver, and old Morgan, and Ben Gunn--who had each taken his share in these crimes, as each had hoped in vain to share in the reward. (33.40)
Robert Louis Stevenson died on the island of Samoa at the age of 44 ( You can visit his grave and museum there). He had a longtime passion for the South Seas and made his home there as an adult, but he was also a socially conscious guy. Jim's meditation on the enormous cost of the treasure Captain Flint has hoarded presents the unromantic, dark side of exploration and acquisition of wealth. "Exploration," in many cases, was synonymous with violence and exploitation.
It was just at sundown when we cast anchor in a most beautiful land-locked gulf, and were immediately surrounded by shore boats full of Negroes and Mexican Indians and half-bloods selling fruits and vegetables and offering to dive for bits of money. The sight of so many good-humoured faces (especially the blacks), the taste of the tropical fruits, and above all the lights that began to shine in the town made a most charming contrast to our dark and bloody sojourn on the island; and the doctor and the squire, taking me along with them, went ashore to pass the early part of the night. Here they met the captain of an English man-of-war, fell in talk with him, went on board his ship, and, in short, had so agreeable a time that day was breaking when we came alongside the Hispaniola. (34.20)
After their awful time on Treasure Island, Jim, Doctor Livesey, and Squire Trelawney hang out for an evening in a port in "Spanish America" (which we assume means Central America or the Caribbean). This scene, richly peopled with non-pirates, presents a huge contrast to the island . It also demonstrates biases in the way Stevenson describes people of color. He is setting the scene with a variety of people to show the broadness of Central American/Caribbean culture as compared to orderly, monochromatic English life. But even so, he uses terminology that we find unacceptable in this day and age. While we have said before that Treasure Island seems timeless, when we hit a passage like this, we suddenly come crashing into the realization that it was written in the 1880s and has the racial politics to match.
It was a strange collection, like Billy Bones's hoard for the diversity of coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider's web, round pieces and square pieces, and pieces bored through the middle, as if to wear them round your neck--nearly every variety of money in the world must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out. (34.3)
But even if exploration has a dark side, treasure is still awesome and exciting. Treasure Island never lets us forget this joy in seeing and touching new stuff. In this case, the things are new and strange kinds of coins. This is also a nice piece of narrative closure, because we have come full circle from the small bag of coins in Billy Bones's chest to the giant hoard in Ben Gunn's cave. The foreshadowing of Jim's future quest in the early chapters of the novel has come to pass by the final chapter.