Treasure Island

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Themes and Colors
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.
Fortune and Greed Theme Icon

The plot of Treasure Island is structured around the hunt for a fortune of massive proportions. The existence of this fortune tempts nearly all the characters in the novel—few are exempt from such a dream, from Long John Silver and Captain Smollett to Jim Hawkins himself. Importantly, the story never really challenges this desire. The pirates might be the murderous enemies of the protagonist, but not because they are greedy while the others remain selfless and unconcerned with money. Treasure is instead, throughout the book, considered as an unquestioned good. It’s something that can be sought and striven after without this search implying greed or sin.

Still, the idea of treasure functions in another way in the book, too, playing off the double meaning of the word “fortune,” which can mean both “wealth” and “fate.” At one point, Israel Hands declares that the voyage on the Hispaniola might always have been cursed with bad fortune—that death and destruction were, perhaps, fated to follow all those on board the ship. The fact that some sailors perish while three mutineers, not to mention the five survivors of the captain’s side, survive is due in part to their ingenuity but also to whether they enjoy good fortune or bad.

The treasure chest, rather than making up part of a larger system of morality in the book, simply lies in wait, ready for the lucky ones who discover it. Similarly, the fortunes of the characters in Treasure Island are subject to the whims of treacherous life on the sea.

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Fortune and Greed Quotes in Treasure Island

Below you will find the important quotes in Treasure Island related to the theme of Fortune and Greed.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I remember him looking round the cove and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Related Characters: Billy Bones (“the captain”) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rum
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Billy Bones, though we don’t yet know his name, has arrived at the Admiral Benbow inn, fascinating Jim and the guests. The captain looks ragged, has black, broken nails, and drags a sea chest behind him. The song that he sings makes up another of the attributes by which Jim, who is relating the tale of Treasure Island retrospectively, remembers him. The song reflects a number of important features of pirate life: death and danger, hidden treasure, and the bottles of rum that so many pirates are constantly guzzling down. The song thus foreshadows what Jim and the other characters in the book will doggedly pursue. The song, however, will also serve to forewarn Jim of the presence of pirates: when he hears it, he knows he must keep a look out for danger.


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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.

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.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“I were in Flint’s ship when he buried the treasure; he and six along—six strong seamen. They was ashore nigh on a week, and us standing off and on in the old Walrus. One fine day up went the signal, and here come Flint by himself in a little boat, and his head done up in a blue scarf. The sun was getting up, and mortal white he looked about the cutwater. But, there he was, you mind, and the six all dead—dead and buried. How he done it, not a man aboard us could make out. It was battle, murder, and sudden death, leastways—him against six. Billy Bones was the mate; Long John, he was quartermaster; and they asked him where the treasure was. ‘Ah,’ says he, ‘you can go ashore, if you like, and stay,’ he says; ‘but as for the ship, she’ll beat up for more, by thunder!’ That’s what he said.”

Related Characters: Ben Gunn (speaker), Long John Silver, Billy Bones (“the captain”), Captain Flint
Related Symbols: The Map of Treasure
Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:

During his explorations on the island, Jim has encountered Ben Gunn, a former member of Captain Flint’s crew, and Gunn is explaining to Jim how he’s been marooned on the island for the past three years. His saga began when Flint decided to bury his treasure, and here Gunn relates the cold-blooded murders of six seamen by the captain. Like Long John Silver, Flint apparently cared little for sparing others, and instead was single-minded in his own desires, ready to sacrifice anything, including other people’s lives, so that no one might be able to divulge where the treasure was located. By mentioning Billy Bones and Long John Silver, Gunn underlines once again the close connections between all these pirates and helps Jim understand the sources of the treasure hunt in which he’s participating.

Chapter 25 Quotes

“If that doctor was aboard,” he said, “I’d be right enough in a couple of turns; but I don’t have no manner of luck, you see, and that’s what’s the matter with me.”

Related Characters: Israel Hands (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Jim has made it aboard the Hispaniola, where he sees a wounded Israel Hands, who has just fought with another pirate, O’Brien, and killed him. Although the doctor is the pirate’s enemy, Hands recognizes that he would be grateful for some professional expertise in order to survive.

Here, Hands helps Jim to recognize the significant role that fortune and luck play in determining what happens to people. In the world of the novel, many things are indeed left up to luck, with no overarching reason or fate behind them. People can only identify events as based on luck rather than on anything else (skill or aptitude, for instance) in order to try to understand them. Jim will take up this use of luck and fortune in thinking through his own experiences. Hands, however, has a particular viewpoint on luck—for him, luck is permanently tied to certain people or objects in a superstitious way, which also helps him to explain himself and the world around him.

Chapter 26 Quotes

“This here’s an unlucky ship—this Hispaniola, Jim,” he went on, blinking. “There’s a power of men been killed in this Hispaniola—a sight o’ poor seamen dead and gone since you and me took ship to Bristol. I never seen sich dirty luck, not I.”

Related Characters: Israel Hands (speaker), Jim Hawkins
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, Hands shares his theories about luck and fortune with Jim, while the two of them are still bound together by their mutual interests in reaching the shore safely. And once again, Hands seems to have a superstitious, even mystical view of luck—luck, in this view, can be tied to something like a ship for good. Hands’ ruminations on this topic help to underline the general drift of the novel towards accounting for certain events not out of a coherent, over-arching and motivating causality but rather simply in terms of the whims of fortune. At the same time, however, Hands’ insistence on the Hispaniola’s bad luck implies a forgetting of the very careful plotting, deceit, and betrayal that has led to so many “seamen dead and gone” since the crew embarked. It may be an unlucky ship, but the destruction that has happened on and around it is also the result of specific people’s choices and plans.

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 30 Quotes

“There is a kind of fate in this,” he observed, when I had done. “Every step, it’s you that saves our lives; and do you suppose by any chance that we are going to let you lose yours? That would be a poor return, my boy. You found out the plot; you found Ben Gunn—the best deed that ever you did, or will do, though you live to ninety.”

Related Characters: Doctor Livesey (speaker), Jim Hawkins, Ben Gunn
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as the pirates had recognized that Jim was crucial in working against them, the doctor now understands more fully that Jim has saved the lives of the captain’s loyal men, despite being only a boy. The doctor has a far better developed sense of loyalty than does Long John Silver, for instance: to him, it is only fair that he now work to save Jim’s life in turn. In congratulating Jim, the doctor also muses on the workings of luck and fortune in such events, and the ways in which Jim happens to be present at every moment of danger, thus giving them all a greater chance of survival. The doctor is impressed by Jim, just as Jim has in many ways learned how to act and which values to espouse from the doctor.

Chapter 33 Quotes

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 had it 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.

Related Characters: Jim Hawkins (speaker), Captain Flint
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally, after a near-endless search, Jim has laid his hands on the treasure. His first reaction is one of amazement and awe. Soon, though, Jim’s thoughts turn to the violence and destruction enacted by the pursuit of such fortune, both that he has witnessed and that has taken place before his time. In the novel, this reality does not exactly make the fortune less worth seeking: indeed, it is a triumph for the captain and his crew to have gotten their hands on it. But it is powerful in part precisely because it is so connected to the fortunes of other people. In surveying such wealth, Jim learns one final lesson about the sacrifices and suffering that can stem from single-minded pursuits in adulthood—pursuits that are no less worth seeking, nonetheless, for it.