Treasure Island


Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Jim paddles the lop-sided but buoyant coracle towards the ocean, until the Hispaniola rises up in front of him. He manages to grab the hawser (mooring cable), but realizes that if he cuts the ship from the anchor, he and the coracle would be knocked right over by the ship. He slowly cuts one strand at a time and then waits to sever the final strands until a breeze will point the ship in the opposite direction than himself.
Jim has learned a great deal about how ships function and is aware of how powerful and dangerous they can be, especially when compared to the small, rickety boat where he finds himself. He’s also developed enough expertise to know how to manage the ship’s ropes and pulleys.
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Jim hears the voices of Israel Hands and another pirate, both drunk and apparently angry and yelling at each other. He can also hear someone singing a sailor’s song on shore. Finally, a breeze comes and Jim cuts the final strands. The ship begins to spin around, following a current, while Jim struggles to get clear of it. He sees a small cord trailing overboard, and hardly knowing what he’s doing, he catches hold of it and raises himself to peer through the cabin window. He sees Hands and his companion wrestling each other—helping him understand why they’re not alarmed at the ship now moving briskly.
Having observed the pirates’ drunken antics for so long, Jim now can predict to a certain extent how they will act whenever rum is involved. Here, Jim simultaneously listens to the pirates and pays attention to the wind in order to find the best, safest way onto the ship possible—acting with exceptional resourcefulness yet again. Everyone is well aware that no one outside the captain’s team has the ability to steer the ship, and now that fact is clearer than ever.
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Jim drops back to his seat and hears the now-familiar sailor’s song again from the shore. Suddenly the coracle lurches to the side, and the Hispaniola begins to tilt as well: it starts spinning not towards the shore but to the open sea. The two pirates aboard, by their shouts, seem to have realized what’s happened. Meanwhile Jim lies down flat in his boat, certain he’s about to die. But nothing happens, and as he rocks back and forth he grows weary, finally falling asleep.
Although Israel Hands and his mate are both too drunk and too unfamiliar with the workings of a ship to pay close attention, even they can sense that something is wrong. Here, finally, Jim’s courage escapes him, and he can think of nothing better to do than simply wait out the rocking until the situation improves.
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