Study Guide

Treasure Island Criminality

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Criminality

Chapter 1
Doctor Livesey

"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?

Chapter 6
Squire Trelawney

"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.

Chapter 8

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?

Chapter 11

"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.

Long John Silver

"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"?

Chapter 13

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.

Chapter 26
Israel Hands

"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?

Chapter 28
Long John Silver

"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.