Study Guide

Treasure Island Exploration

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Chapter 10
Long John Silver

"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.

Chapter 13
Doctor Livesey

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.

Chapter 14

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.

Chapter 15

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.

Chapter 30
Long John Silver

"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.

Chapter 33

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.

Chapter 34

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 N****es 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.

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