Treasure Island


Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson was born into a family that expected him to continue the family profession of civil engineering. While he attended Edinburgh University to study engineering, a series of illnesses and general frailty prevented him from becoming either an engineer or pursuing his second choice, law. Instead he began to write, beginning with essays and travel narratives. In 1879 Stevenson traveled to California and there married Fanny Osbourne, an American woman he had met in France. After the couple returned to Scotland, Stevenson continued his career as a writer, turning now to children’s stories of adventure, and writing Treasure Island for his stepson, a boy named Lloyd Osbourne. The couple returned to America in 1887 and ultimately settled in Samoa, where Stevenson died at the age of 44. He is best known for his works Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
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Historical Context of Treasure Island

As the literary context of Treasure Island makes clear, Victorian writers were fascinated by tales of pirates. Stevenson set his novel sometime in the eighteenth century, which was a kind of golden age for piracy, given that European ships were transporting large amounts of goods and wealth (often gained from slavery) between the New World and Europe. The Jolly Roger, the pirate flag mentioned in the novel, was historically an iconic image used by many pirates to force other ships to surrender. Blackbeard, who is equated with Captain Flint in the book, was also a real historical figure who sailed around the West Indies in the late seventeenth century.

Other Books Related to Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson explicitly acknowledged his debt to a number of British and American writers: the poem that precedes the beginning of Treasure Island includes references to W.H.G. Kingston and R.M. Ballantyne (both lesser-known writers of adventure stories) as well as James Fenimore Cooper, an American author best known for The Last of the Mohicans and his Leatherstocking Tales of the American frontier, but who also wrote a number of historical romances of the sea. Treasure Island can also be fit into a longer history of adventure tales, as well as of the novel itself: Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, often considered the first novel, deals with a shipwreck and adventures on a Caribbean island as well. As an adventure story for boys, the book is inspired by Mark Twain’s famous American tales The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Key Facts about Treasure Island
  • Full Title: Treasure Island
  • Where Written: Scotland
  • When Published: 1881-1882
  • Literary Period: Victorian Literature
  • Genre: Novel, children’s adventure story
  • Setting: Britain (on the Bristol Channel) and Treasure Island (apparently somewhere in the Caribbean, although the plants on the island make that unclear)
  • Climax: Having found the x-marks-the-spot, but with no treasure to be seen—merely an excavation site—the pirates are ready to mutiny against Long John Silver (and kill Jim along with him) when Silver kills George. The doctor, Gray, and Ben Gunn then emerge from their hiding place in the woods and they send the other pirates racing off.
  • Antagonist: Long John Silver is the most prominent antagonist, though he’s an ambivalent one: less important pirates like Israel Hands are also the most decidedly evil.
  • Point of View: Most of the novel is told in the first person from the perspective of an older Jim Hawkins who is setting down the tale of Treasure Island. For several chapters, however, the point of view shifts to that of Dr. Livesey, who relates a number of events happening while Jim was elsewhere and thus couldn’t have known what was going on.

Extra Credit for Treasure Island

Shipwrecks and silver. Hispaniola, the name of the ship that carries the characters to Treasure Island, is also the old name for the island now divided between the nations of Dominican Republic and Haiti. There, a sunken Spanish ship carrying a great deal of treasure was discovered by a notorious adventurer, William Phips, who left some gold for others to find.

Bringing the book to life. Among the American artist and illustrator N.C. Wyeth’s most famous works are the vivid illustrations he made for Treasure Island, which are often considered to be his best.