Study Guide

Treasure Island Appearances

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Lots of characters in Treasure Island are exactly as they appear: Captain Smollett looks sharp and he is sharp. Ben Gunn looks shifty and strange and he is shifty and strange. We've also talked throughout this guide about the many ways in which Long John Silver is a chameleon (see our thoughts on him in "Characters" for highlights). Jim Hawkins is also somewhat difficult to read. None of his allies – indeed, not even Jim himself – can fully conceive of what he is capable of. Similarly, the pirates are completely surprised (and enraged) when Jim tells them that he has been the root of their failures since coming to the island. We don't get a sense of what Jim looks like (except that he is young), but there is clearly nothing in his face that suggests the lengths to which he is capable of going. These surprising reserves of ability are something else that Jim shares with Long John Silver. Perhaps Long John Silver is what Jim would be if he had grown up without morals.

Questions About Appearances

  1. We know that Long John Silver and Jim are not as simple and straightforward as they first appear to be. Which characters in the novel are as simple as they appear to be? How is appearance used as a tool of characterization in the novel?
  2. How does Stevenson use character appearance to create suspense in Treasure Island?
  3. How does the appearance of the island contribute to the adventures Jim finds there?

Chew on This

The marshy, sickly atmosphere of the island and its many hidden caves and forests underlines the plot turns that take place there.

Characters like Israel Hands and George Merry fail to win out over wily figures like Jim and Long John Silver because they cannot disguise their intentions.

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