Treasure Island


Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island: Allusions 3 key examples

Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Explanation and Analysis—A Poem to the Reader:

The book's epigraph comes in the form of a witty poem penned by the author Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson explicitly uses this device as a method of persuasion and even addresses the poem directly to the reader, whom he humorously refers to as "the hesitating purchaser."

Stevenson opens the poem by praising the "sailor tales" that pleased him as a youth. Stevenson then wonders if the "studious youth" of his time "no longer crave" such tales. In the following stanza of the poem, he makes a reference, or allusion, to three influential authors of the genre: "His ancient appetites forgot / Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave, or Cooper of the wood and wave."

The three names in the poem refer to W. H. G. Kingston, R. M. Ballantyne, and James Fenimore Cooper. Kingston, Ballantyne, and Cooper were all popular authors of adventure novels; young readers and fans of the genre would have likely been familiar with them and their works. Cooper in particular was a significant literary influence on Stevenson and the writing of Treasure Island. His 1826 adventure tale, The Last of the Mohicans, was his most popular work and a huge success. In the next line of the poem, Stevenson puts Treasure Island in the same category as Mohicans and other popular pirate stories, writing "May I / And all my pirates share a grave where these and their creations lie." In doing so, Stevenson makes a direct appeal to the reader, implying that the book they are holding is one of the greats. 

Chapter 7. I Go to Bristol
Explanation and Analysis—Dear Old Admiral Benbow:

In Chapter 7, Jim Hawkins leaves for Bristol and tearfully bids his home goodbye. Moved by his fondness for the family inn, Jim uses personification as he says a final farewell: 

I said good-bye to mother and the cove where I had lived since I was born, and the dear old "Admiral Benbow"—since he was repainted, no longer quite so dear.

Jim refers to the inn as "dear old," a phrase that emphasizes its familiarity to him and implies the inn is a cherished friend. This is an example of personification, a form of figurative language in which non-human objects are described as having human attributes. The Admiral Benbow isn't just where Jim lives; it also represents the safety and comforts of home. Once Billy Bones arrives and Jim father's dies, however, both the inn and Jim's life are thrown into disarray.

Stevenson uses personification purposefully in the passage above to underscores the inn's significance to Jim. Once Jim leaves the Admiral Benbow for Bristol, he faces events that challenge and change him forever. Jim's departure from the inn symbolizes a transition from the innocence of childhood to the harsh realities of adult life. 

Other characters also refer to the inn as "Admiral Benbow" throughout the novel, speaking of the inn as if it was a real person. In naming the inn "Admiral Benbow," Stevenson also alludes to the Naval officer John Benbow, who became a popular hero in Britain during the late 1600s for his exploits at sea. 

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Chapter 18. Narrative Continued by the Doctor: End of the First Day’s Fighting
Explanation and Analysis—Lain Like a Trojan:

In Chapter 18, Squire Trelawney’s gamekeeper and servant Tom Redruth is shot and killed by mutineers on Treasure Island. Narrated by Doctor Livesey, the novel then uses both an allusion and simile to describe Tom Redruth after his death:

He had lain like a Trojan behind his mattress in the galley; he had followed every order silently, doggedly, and well; he was the oldest of our party by a score of years; and now, sullen, old, serviceable servant, it was he that was to die.

Doctor Livesey, who narrates the passage above, uses a simile and compares Tom Redruth to a Trojan. In Greek mythology, Trojans were defenders of the ancient kingdom of Troy. Fierce warriors, they symbolized courage and loyalty. In comparing Tom to a soldier, the novel suggests his death is a virtuous and noble act, not unlike the fallen Trojan who has sacrificed his life for some larger cause. The Doctor then goes on to describe Tom as a "sullen, old, serviceable" servant who was extremely loyal to the Squire and always obeyed his orders. In emphasizing these traits, the Doctor characterizes Tom's death as misfortune and sacrifice to be mourned.

Stevenson includes this allusion and simile in the narrative to heighten the drama of Tom's death. It is an important, tragic moment for Jim and the others; they realize how much they may lose as a consequence of the pirates' act of mutiny. 

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