Study Guide

Treasure Island Duty

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Advertisement - Guide continues below


Chapter 4
Jim Hawkins's Father and Mother

"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.

Chapter 10
Captain Smollett

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.

Chapter 11
Long John Silver

"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.

Chapter 12
Captain Smollett

"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.

Chapter 16
Captain Smollett

"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?

Chapter 18

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?

Chapter 21
Tom Redruth, Richard Joyce, John Hunter, and Mr. Blandly

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?

Chapter 26

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?

Chapter 33
Captain Smollett

"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?

Chapter 34
Long John Silver

"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?

Treasure Island Duty Study Group

Ask questions, get answers, and discuss with others.

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

This is a premium product

Please Wait...