Study Guide

Treasure Island Appearances

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Chapter 1

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.

Chapter 3

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.

Chapter 4

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."

Chapter 6

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?

Chapter 7

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.

Chapter 8

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?

Chapter 10
Tom Redruth, Richard Joyce, John Hunter, and Mr. Blandly

"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?

Chapter 12

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.

Chapter 15

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.

Chapter 30

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.

Chapter 33

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.

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