Study Guide

Treasure Island Friendship

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Chapter 10

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.

Chapter 11
Long John Silver

"'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.

Chapter 22

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?

Chapter 27

[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.

Chapter 28
Long John Silver

"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.

Chapter 31

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?

Chapter 33
Doctor Livesey

"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?

Chapter 34

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?

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