Study Guide

Treasure Island Youth

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Chapter 3
Billy Bones

[Billy Bones] wandered a little longer, his voice growing weaker; but soon after I had given him his medicine, which he took like a child, with the remark, "If ever a seaman wanted drugs, it's me," he fell at last into a heavy, swoon-like sleep, in which I left him. (3.19)

There is a repeated theme in Treasure Island that illness makes us dependent and childlike. First there is Billy Bones's weakness, in which he takes his medicine "like a child." Then there is poor, feverish Dick Johnson, who begins babbling and clutching his Bible toward the end of the novel. He totally goes to pieces as he gets sick and follows the other pirates like a child. How does illness make us more childlike? What does this analogy suggest about how Stevenson feels about childhood?

Chapter 4

I lost no time, of course, in telling my mother all that I knew, and perhaps should have told her long before, and we saw ourselves at once in a difficult and dangerous position. Some of [Billy Bones's] money--if he had any--was certainly due to us, but it was not likely that our captain's shipmates, above all the two specimens seen by me, Black Dog and the blind beggar, would be inclined to give up their booty in payment of the dead man's debts. (4.1)

As soon as Billy Bones enters the Admiral Benbow Inn, Jim shows signs of the secretiveness and independent thinking that will characterize his behavior on the island. Jim hasn't told his mother about Billy Bones's origins, although he thinks in passing that "perhaps [he] should have told her long before." This reflection sounds a lot like Jim's passing regret over leaving the fort without permission. Even in this tiny exchange, we can see foreshadowing of how Jim is going to develop as a character over the course of the novel.

Chapter 7

It was on seeing that boy that I understood, for the first time, my situation. I had thought up to that moment of the adventures before me, not at all of the home that I was leaving; and now, at sight of this clumsy stranger, who was to stay here in my place beside my mother, I had my first attack of tears. I am afraid I led that boy a dog's life, for as he was new to the work, I had a hundred opportunities of setting him right and putting him down, and I was not slow to profit by them. (7.13)

Jim is leaving the nest, and even though he's ready to go, he still regrets it a little bit once he realizes that it's actually happening. "This clumsy stranger," his mother's apprentice, is a symbol of Jim's own childhood, which he is now leaving behind to go on a treasure hunt. We wish our own transitions from childhood to adulthood had come with gold bars.

Chapter 10

I got bodily into the apple barrel, and found there was scarce an apple left; but sitting down there in the dark, what with the sound of the waters and the rocking movement of the ship, I had either fallen asleep or was on the point of doing so when a heavy man sat down with rather a clash close by. The barrel shook as he leaned his shoulders against it, and I was just about to jump up when the man began to speak. It was Silver's voice, and before I had heard a dozen words, I would not have shown myself for all the world, but lay there, trembling and listening, in the extreme of fear and curiosity, for from these dozen words I understood that the lives of all the honest men aboard depended upon me alone. (10.30)

It sounds like Jim is feeling a rush about the fact that "the lives of all the honest men aboard depended on [him] alone." Suddenly, he's going from cabin boy, the lowliest member of the crew, to the savior of all. One reason Jim always finds himself in the right place at the right time is because he's so young. He's small and childlike enough to climb right into an apple barrel and fall asleep, which sounds like something we would have done when we were kids. Jim childlike nature is the very thing that saves the "honest men" on board the Hispaniola (or at least, many of them) from death at the hands of the pirates.

Chapter 15

I began to recall what I had heard of cannibals. I was within an ace of calling for help. But the mere fact that he was a man, however wild, had somewhat reassured me, and my fear of Silver began to revive in proportion. I stood still, therefore, and cast about for some method of escape; and as I was so thinking, the recollection of my pistol flashed into my mind. As soon as I remembered I was not defenceless, courage glowed again in my heart and I set my face resolutely for this man of the island and walked briskly towards him. (15.4)

Jim is recalling tall tales and freaking himself out as he sees the then unknown Ben Gunn in the distance. But he suddenly remembers that he's not "defenceless" – he is armed – and he takes confidence. We can contrast Jim's ability to overcome his fear with the cowardice of the pirates, who believe the forests are haunted in the later chapters of the novel. Jim is slowly becoming more mature than full-grown men like Tom Morgan and George Merry. Something about pirate life seems to keep them from maturing. For all of their violence and toughness, they still seem like self-indulgent and easily frightened children.

Chapter 22

Well, now that I had found the boat, you would have thought I had had enough of truantry for once, but in the meantime I had taken another notion and become so obstinately fond of it that I would have carried it out, I believe, in the teeth of Captain Smollett himself. This was to slip out under cover of the night, cut the Hispaniola adrift, and let her go ashore where she fancied. I had quite made up my mind that the mutineers, after their repulse of the morning, had nothing nearer their hearts than to up anchor and away to sea; this, I thought, it would be a fine thing to prevent, and now that I had seen how they left their watchmen unprovided with a boat, I thought it might be done with little risk. (22.35)

These guerilla actions against the pirates seem to come completely out of the blue. Sure, Jim says he "thought it would be a fine thing to prevent" the mutineers from escaping, but it's quite a jump from that to rowing out to the boat and setting it adrift. Do we see any signs that Jim is learning how to fight pirates from experience, or is he just naturally gifted at waging war against a small band of bloodthirsty criminals?

As for the scheme I had in my head, it was not a bad one in itself. I was to go down the sandy spit that divides the anchorage on the east from the open sea, find the white rock I had observed last evening, and ascertain whether it was there or not that Ben Gunn had hidden his boat, a thing quite worth doing, as I still believe. But as I was certain I should not be allowed to leave the enclosure, my only plan was to take French leave and slip out when nobody was watching, and that was so bad a way of doing it as made the thing itself wrong. But I was only a boy, and I had made my mind up. (22.15)

There is only one other moment in the book we can think of when Jim tries to justify his actions – in a scene we discuss in the "Quotes: Friendship." He must feel that leaving his friends behind with no warning was the worst thing he did, because this is the one act he explains away as that of "a boy." Do you buy the explanation that Jim sneaks off because he is "only a boy"? Does it matter to you why he leaves his friends? By the way, taking "French leave" means abandoning your post without permission – a slur on French sailors, as you can imagine.

I had not then seen a coracle, such as the ancient Britons made, but I have seen one since, and I can give you no fairer idea of Ben Gunn's boat than by saying it was like the first and the worst coracle ever made by man. But the great advantage of the coracle it certainly possessed, for it was exceedingly light and portable. (22.27)

This quote is one of the few moments when Jim alludes to his later life after the novel ("I have seen one since"). What on earth could Jim be doing with his time that he has now observed "a coracle, such as the ancient Britons made?" Why do you think Stevenson introduces this time lag between the Jim narrating Treasure Island and the Jim experiencing Treasure Island?

"Come in, Jim," said the captain. "You're a good boy in your line, Jim, but I don't think you and me'll go to sea again. You're too much of the born favourite for me" (33.41)

It's a little unclear what Captain Smollett means by "the born favourite." Does he mean Jim is too lucky? Too independent? Too disobedient? Certainly we can see why a by-the-book captain like Smollett would find Jim too much of a handful to manage, but we're also intrigued by Captain Smollett's description of Jim as "a good boy in [his] line." This implies that there are other boys like Jim out there. Perhaps this is another subtle suggestion to us by Stevenson to imagine ourselves like Jim or in his place.

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