Treasure Island

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Courage, Adventure, and Pragmatism Theme Analysis

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Fortune and Greed Theme Icon
Father Figures and “Becoming a Man” Theme Icon
Deception, Secrecy, and Trust Theme Icon
Courage, Adventure, and Pragmatism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Treasure Island, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Courage, Adventure, and Pragmatism Theme Icon

If there’s anything that makes Long John Silver admirable despite his despicable qualities, it’s his courage in the face of danger. Jim notices this aspect of Silver’s character as he watches the pirates threaten to mutiny once again, this time against Silver, who remains calm and cool even though he is outmatched. Jim watches and learns from Silver how to act in a real adventure. Indeed, Jim has sailed with the crew of the Hispaniola in search of adventure itself, even if he’s not initially certain what that means—and even if he sheds tears at leaving what he knows in pursuit of the exciting unknown.

The titles of the various sections, including “My Shore Adventure” and “My Sea Adventure,” help to structure the book around this very category. In the majority of these cases, the adventures can be understood as isolated, detachable events, less important in terms of driving the plot forward than as lively episodes in Jim’s life. It is through these events, nonetheless, that he makes the leap from childhood to adulthood. He realizes, fighting Israel Hands, that the pirate games he once played back home in Black Hill Cove have now become reality, and it only is by following the lesson of Long John Silver and becoming courageous himself that he can hope to survive.

In an adventure story like this one, then, what is right and wrong is less important than the courage and resourcefulness with which one responds to danger. It may be Israel Hands who claims not to see what’s “good” about goodness, but Jim too embraces a pragmatic, realistic attitude to challenges. To outwit his enemies requires a survival-first attitude, one that Jim masters gradually over the course of the plot.

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Courage, Adventure, and Pragmatism Quotes in Treasure Island

Below you will find the important quotes in Treasure Island related to the theme of Courage, Adventure, and Pragmatism.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Now, if I can't get away nohow, and they tip me the black spot, mind you, it's my old sea-chest they're after; you get on a horse—you can, can't you? Well, then, you get on a horse, and go to-well, yes, I will!—to that eternal Doctor swab, and tell him to pipe all hands—magistrates and sich—and he'll lay'em aboard at the 'Admiral Benbow'—all old Flint's crew, man and boy, all on 'em that's left. I was first mate, I was, old Flint's first mate, and I'm the on'y one as knows the place. He gave it me at Savannah, when he lay a-dying, like as if I was to now, you see.

Related Characters: Billy Bones (“the captain”) (speaker), Jim Hawkins, Doctor Livesey, Captain Flint
Related Symbols: The Black Spot
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the book’s first explicit mention of the black spot, the name for the blackened piece of paper that a group of pirates hand to their captain in order to replace him with another—a sign of no trust, and a symbol as well of the fickle, ever-changing desires of pirates throughout the novel. Billy Bones had been chosen as one pirate ship’s leader at an earlier point, and now he fears that he will be deposed in turn. He suspects, as he tells Jim, that the pirates want what’s in his sea chest, and that’s why they’re replacing him, since he has vowed to keep Captain Flint’s secret until his death.

Only later does this passage begin to make more sense, once we learn that there is a treasure map inside the chest, and that Captain Flint is a famous pirate who hid treasure on a far-away island. Billy Bones thus wants Dr. Livesey to get a crew together to hunt down this treasure. But as he’s developed a liking for Jim, and because Jim is close by, it’s through Jim that the doctor will receive this message—thus implicating Jim for good in the hunt for treasure, and establishing the precedent of considering him like a man rather than a boy.

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Chapter 6 Quotes

The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island, with latitude and longitude, soundings, names of hills, and bays and inlets, and every particular that would be needed to bring a ship to a safe anchorage upon its shores. It was about nine miles long and five across, shaped, you might say, like a fat dragon standing up, and had two fine landlocked harbours, and a hill in the centre part marked "The Spy-glass." There were several additions of a later date; but, above all, three crosses of red ink-two on the north part of the island, one in the south-west, and, beside this last, in the same red ink, and in a small, neat hand, very different from the captain's tottery characters, these words: “Bulk of treasure here.”

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Doctor Livesey
Related Symbols: The Map of Treasure
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim knew enough to seize the oil-cloth packet that held this map, but at this point he doesn’t understand what the doctor (and most readers) would easily recognize: that the piece of paper is a treasure map, and thus clarifies the captain’s rambling message to Jim before he died. The island is carefully and intricately described, and the description exudes an atmosphere of exoticism and excitement. The doctor certainly grasps that this ragged piece of paper is actually enormously valuable—it is none other than directions to a fortune of untold proportions, one that will trigger a treasure hunt and ultimately a battle, for many to death, that will structure the rest of the book.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“Here it is about gentlemen of fortune. They lives rough, and they risk swinging, but they eat and drink like fighting-cocks, and when a cruise is done, why, it’s hundreds of pounds instead of hundreds of farthings in their pockets. Now the most goes for rum and a good fling, and to sea again in their shirts. But that’s not the course I lay.”

Related Characters: Long John Silver (speaker)
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim has been accustomed to listening to Long John Silver talk like a gentleman. Now that he’s hiding in an apple barrel and listening to Silver speak to a number of other crewmen, Silver has slipped effortlessly into their way of talking, using bad grammar and sailors’ slang. Here he gives the crew an overview of the strategy for “gentlemen of fortune,” that is, pirates, who greedily seek after fortunes only to spend them on rum and women, before going back out to sea.

Silver, though, wants to win the others’ confidence by making a case that although he might be familiar with the ways of such “gentlemen,” he is different. Silver wants to be thought of as responsible, cool-headed, and rational, rather than hot-headed and lusting after gold. If he succeeds in convincing the others of this, they’ll be much more likely to betray the captain’s loyalty and join Silver’s plans of mutiny. Silver has clearly spent a great deal of time planning and plotting this attack, and he’s willing to be patient in order to be certain of success.

“But mark my words 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 non of those 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!”

Related Characters: Long John Silver (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

As John continues to spin his yarns among the crewmen, one of them asks what they are to do with the captain and those loyal to him after they mutiny and take over the ship. Here, Silver shows just how cold and vicious he can be—an attitude that Jim has never yet witnessed, and which he might not have believed if he weren’t hearing it himself. Silver claims that he’s willing to kill them all, just in order to ensure that no one will be able to testify against him or the other pirates at court one day—murder, then, is the safest bet.

This declaration convinces Jim that the man he so admired is in fact a terrifying criminal, causing his respect for Silver to evaporate. Still, it’s impossible to know, after reading the entire novel, how sincere anything Silver says could be. He can indeed be ruthless and calculating—he’ll kill men in cold blood on the island—and he may well have little concern about murdering the whole crew. But it’s also possible that Silver is very aware of the other pirates’ own thirst for blood and taste for violence. In order to ensure their loyalty to him, rather than to the captain, it’s important for him to convince them that he’s just like them, and such a speech could well function to do precisely that.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“Hawkins, I put prodigious faith in you,” added the squire.
I began to feel pretty desperate at this, for I felt altogether helpless; and yet, by an odd train of circumstances, it was indeed through me that safety came. In the meantime, talk as we pleased, there were only seven out of the twenty-six on whom we knew we could rely; and out of these seven one was a boy, so that the grown men on our side were six to their nineteen.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Squire Trelawney (speaker)
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim has just finished relating to the squire, doctor, and captain what he overheard in the apple-barrel. It’s thanks to him, therefore, that the rest of the crew is aware of the planned mutiny at all, and the squire is obviously grateful for this. For most of the sea voyage, Jim has been grateful in turn for being treated like more of a man than a boy. Now, though, he’s realizing just what that means when graver challenges arise than sailors’ tasks on deck. Jim is learning to plot and plan just like Silver, but here his reasoning only makes him more concerned, since it underlines how disadvantaged his side is against the pirates—especially since, as he now reminds himself, he’s only a boy. Jim is still in the process of learning what it means to have courage in such times of danger.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Then it was that there came into my head the first of the mad notions that contributed so much to save our lives. If six men were left by Silver, it was plain our party could not take and fight the ship; and since only six were left, it was equally plain that the cabin party had no present need of my assistance. It occurred to me at once to go ashore. In a jiffy I had slipped over the side, and curled up in the fore-sheets of the nearest boat, and almost at the same time she shoved off.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Long John Silver
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

The ship has neared the shore of Treasure Island, and the captain, aware of the plans of mutiny, has decided to allow only some of the pirates to go ashore, hoping that this will tame their restlessness and give him and the others enough time to hatch a plan of defense. With only six aboard the ship, as Jim now realizes, his side has little chance of defeating the pirates, but nor would the pirates be able to wipe out the captain and crew. As a result, he reasons his way into finding it an excellent idea to leave and explore the island.

Jim often finds ways of justifying his desires for adventure and exploration by appealing to a more generous cause. Often, indeed, his adventures do prove useful and even life-saving to others. This passage helps clarify, nonetheless, that one of Jim’s most salient characteristics is a boyish adventurousness, motivating him to seek out new things and places, and preparing the way for bravery when the stakes later become higher.

Chapter 14 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim has left the Hispaniola and paddle ashore on a small boat, where he is able to explore and wander alone, with none of the daily chores and responsibilities of life as a sailors’ hand. That this is the first time Jim has felt the “joy of exploration” reminds us that, until this sea voyage, he (like many young boys who have only read adventure stories, not lived them) had seen very little of the world outside his town. Here Jim is impressed by anything that is new and novel, and he is thrilled rather than afraid—a response that helps make sense of his personality. Even while Jim’s love of exploration makes him somewhat more mature than many other children, his carefree joy at being left alone without responsibilities makes him not quite an adult either.

Chapter 20 Quotes

“Now you’ll hear me. If you’ll come up one by one, unarmed, I’ll engage to clap you all in irons, and take you home to a fair trial in England. If you won’t, my name is Alexander Smollett. I’ve flown my sovereign’s colours, and I’ll see you all to Davy Jones. You can’t find the treasure. You can’t sail the ship—there’s not a man among you fit to sail the ship. You can’t fight us—Gray, there, got away from five of you. Your ship’s in irons, Master Silver; you’re on a lee shore, and so you’ll find. I stand here and tell you so; and they’re the last good words you’ll get from me; for, in the name of heaven, I’ll put a bullet in your back when next I meet you. Tramp, my lad. Bundle out of this, please, hand over hand, and double quick.”

Related Characters: Captain Smollett (speaker), Long John Silver, Abraham Gray
Page Number: 107-108
Explanation and Analysis:

Long John Silver has come to the log-house bearing a flag of truce, and wanting to strike a bargain with Captain Smollett: he has proposed that the captain and his crew allow the pirates to find the treasure, and they’ll win a safe passage back. But here, the captain refuses to be cowed by Silver and, instead, makes a proposal of his own. He shows that he too can play Silver’s game of cold bravery and rational, logical calculation: one by one, he goes through all the reasons that his side, in fact, possesses the advantage.

Just as Jim has learned certain postures and behaviors from Silver, he can now witness the captain’s courageous speech and and be inspired by it in turn. Earlier, Jim had found the captain overly strict and authoritarian: now, though, he can see the advantage in the captain’s attitude.

Chapter 22 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Ben Gunn
Page Number: 118-119
Explanation and Analysis:

In the slow, boring waiting periods between battles, Jim has grown restless, not to mention jealous of the doctor, who has slipped out to meet with Ben Gunn. Gunn had told Jim that he’d hidden a small boat under a large white rock by the shore, and this gives Jim the seeds for a plan, even if he doesn’t think about what he’ll do after he finds the boat. As he’s looking back on his younger self, the Jim narrating the story recognizes that this desire to slip out secretly and betray the others was immature and not worthy of a man who had responsibilities to others. But he also implicitly forgives his younger self for his immaturity, suggesting that he was still in the process of growing up. Jim’s actions can also be forgiven because he’s clever enough to hatch ideas that might prove useful to the others—he can think creatively and act courageously in a way that older men sometimes cannot.

Chapter 25 Quotes

I was greatly elated with my new command, and pleased with 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.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Israel Hands
Page Number: 134-135
Explanation and Analysis:

Once in a while, Jim is able to evade the dangers of the treasure hunt and battles with the pirates in order to full-heartedly embrace the joy of adventure. This joy is compromised for him when he knows he’s been acting as he shouldn’t, in this case having snuck off without telling anyone—even if he’s won over the ship as a result.

However, even this pure joy of adventure, Jim learns, must be qualified by the constant presence of possible danger. Israel Hands’ smile and eyes are what alert Jim to the possible plans for treachery lurking in the pirate’s mind. It’s impossible for Jim to know exactly what Hands is plotting just by recognizing that Hands is watching him, but he knows enough by now to be vigilant in order to stave off any unpleasant surprise.

Chapter 26 Quotes

Israel could move about; he was now armed; and if he had been at so much trouble to get rid of me, it was plain that I was meant to be the victim.
[…]
Yet I felt sure that I could trust him in one point, since in that our interests jumped together, and that was in the disposition of the schooner. We both desired to have her stranded safe enough, in a sheltered place, and so that, when the time came, she could be got off again with as little labour and danger as might be; and until that was done I considered that my life would certainly be spared.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Israel Hands
Page Number: 137-138
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim has been suspicious of Hands all this while, and finally, after Hands makes a weak excuse for why he would like Jim to go below deck, Jim takes advantage of the opportunity to spy on Hands and sees him grab a knife and hide it in the folds of his clothing. Jim hasn’t been able to stop Hands from arming himself, but now Hands doesn’t have as much of an advantage of surprise over his enemy as he might think.

At the same time, Jim reasons his way through his new, dangerous situation as he tries to determine how to respond to Hands’s treachery. Jim has learned from figures like Silver and the captain to respond coolly and rationally to such scenarios, and this skill proves useful as he recognizes that, at least for a little while longer, his and Hands’s interests are actually the same. Jim looks ahead to the courage he’ll certainly have to show at some point, but he also realizes that even deceit has its limits, and that with enough scheming himself he can identify those limits and work with them.

Chapter 28 Quotes

“I was in the apple barrel the night we sighted land, and I heard you, John, and you, Dick Johnson, and Hands, who is now at the bottom of the sea, and told every word you said before the hour was out. And as for the schooner, it was I who cut her cable, and it was I that killed the men you had aboard of her, and it was I who brought her where you’ll never see her more, not one of you. The laugh’s on my side; I’ve had the top of the business from the first; I no more fear you than I fear a fly. Kill me, if you please, or spare me.”

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Long John Silver, Israel Hands, Dick
Page Number: 153-154
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim has reached the log-house but, instead of finding his friends there, he has been taken captive by the pirates. Long John Silver has then once again attempted to use all the rhetorical skills at his disposal to trick Jim into joining their side, suggesting that he would be rejected by his friends as punishment for sneaking away. Here, however, Jim objects to Silver’s attempts to use and manipulate him. He wants Silver and all the other pirates to know that he’s learned from some of the most powerful authority figures on board to hide, scheme, and plot just as well as they can. He may be only a boy, but, as he lists his actions here, he’s been central in thwarting the pirates’ desires, and so he demands to be treated as that importance suggests. He may not be feeling as brave as what he says—he certainly hopes they’ll spare him and not kill him—but the posture of courage is, he’s learned, just as important as true courage.

Chapter 31 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Long John Silver
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jim trudges along towards the treasure as a prisoner of the pirates, he begins to worry about just how earnest Long John Silver was in his commitment to Jim and the captain’s crew. Silver has just sketched out a plan to the pirates that would involve killing off each of their enemies and racing away on the Hispaniola. On one hand, Jim recognizes that Silver may just be pacifying the pirates, convincing them that he’s still on their side—but on the other hand, it’s quite possible that Silver is actually speaking in earnest here and would not hesitate to kill Jim and the others if he thought it would end up better for him. With Silver, it’s impossible ever to know what he truly thinks or believes. Given his pragmatic attitude, in fact, it may be that Silver refrains from believing anything too deeply—a position that allows him to change positions so quickly and adeptly.