Treasure Island


Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island: Imagery 8 key examples

Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Chapter 1. The Old Sea Dog at the “Admiral Benbow”
Explanation and Analysis—Admiral Benbow:

In Chapter 1, Jim uses vivid imagery to describe Billy Bones, an old sailor who identifies himself as "The Captain" when he arrives at the Admiral Benbow, the inn where Jim and his parents work and live:

A tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the saber cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white.

Billy Bones is the first pirate readers meet in Treasure Island and their introduction to pirate life. He arrives with a mysterious sea chest and sings the "Dead Man's Chest," a pirate shanty sung repeatedly by pirates in Treasure Island. The story provides specific details about Billy's physical appearance in order to suggest certain traits about his character to the reader. He is tan, suggesting that he has spent most of his time outdoors. He is wounded, unkempt, and physically intimidating, and his overall rugged appearance suggests he is "rough around the edges," someone who has been "roughened" by life. Billy's appearance is in keeping with his personality. He is an alcoholic and a terrorizing presence to Jim and the inn's patrons. In presenting Billy to the reader in this way, the story suggests that pirate life is largely "uncivilized" and lawless, very much in contrast with the quaint world of Jim's family inn. It is a chaotic world Jim is soon thrust into after his father dies and he is forced to fend for himself alone. 

Explanation and Analysis—The One-Legged Sailor:

Early in Chapter 1, Jim Hawkins uses vivid imagery to describe the frightening nightmares he has of a "seafaring man with one leg," whom Billy Bones has warned him about:

How that personage haunted my dreams […] On stormy nights, when the wind shook the four corners of the house, and the surf roared along the cove and up the cliffs, I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of creature […] to see him leap and run and pursue me over the hedge and ditch was the worst of my nightmares. 

Jim immediately likens the one-legged man's presence to a ghost or some equally terrifying presence. Jim imagines seeing him in a terrible storm and uses a hyperbole that emphasizes the pirate's elusive and enigmatic nature, suggesting that he sees a "thousand" versions of him. Like a sudden thunderstorm, the man arrives suddenly, bringing destruction and chaos. The man also has the ability to  transform into "a thousand diabolical expressions," which foreshadows and accurately describes his manipulative nature. When Jim first encounters Long John Silver in Bristol,  he thinks of him as kind and trustworthy. However, much to Jim's surprise, Silver turns out to be the very man he was warned about. Silver, manipulative and dangerous, thinks of himself first, and constantly relies on a combination of charm, wits, and pragmatism to survive. 

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Chapter 6. The Captain’s Papers
Explanation and Analysis—The Treasure Map:

In Chapter 6, the novel uses descriptive language and vivid visual imagery to describe the invaluable map of Treasure Island, where Captain Flint's buried treasure supposedly lies:

 It was about nine miles long and five across, shaped, you might say, like a fat dragon standing up, and had two fine land-locked garb ours, and a hill in the centre marked “The Spy-glass." […] 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.

Jim pays great attention to Captain Flint's map and even lists exact measurements. It's carefully described, an intentional choice on the part of Stevenson. In doing so, Stevenson underscores the map's significance to the reader. Captain Flint's map lies at the center of Treasure Island; it's what motivates most of the characters. Because the map leads to hidden, valuable treasure, it also attracts greed. Many of the men in the novel go to great lengths in order to find it, including murder.

Jim also uses a simile and compares the island's shape to an enormous, terrifying creature. This foreshadows the danger that awaits Jim and other members of the Hispaniola crew once they find themselves on Treasure island. As the map suggests, the journey to the treasure is long and treacherous—it's no easy feat. The challenges Jim encounters on the ship and island force him to adapt and figure things for himself, traits Treasure Island suggests are necessary to survive the harshness of life. 

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Chapter 13. How My Shore Adventure Began
Explanation and Analysis—A Poisonous Brightness:

In Chapter 13, the narrative's visual imagery foreshadow the mutiny that occurs once the Hispaniola arrives at Treasure Island: 

The foliage round that part of the shore had a kind of poisonous brightness.

Jim uses the phrase "poisonous brightness" to describe the vegetation on the island. The phrase brings to mind leaves that are so bright they look somehow unnatural and—moreover—dangerous. The implication here is that something so bright and beautiful is too good to be true, ultimately hiding its own potential to do harm. 

By introducing the island in this way, Stevenson foreshadows the dangers of obsessing over things (like treasure) that seem good but actually have the power to become destructive and "poisonous" to the soul. Indeed, the pirates seeking out the bounty on Treasure Island only focus on the idea of shiny gold and great riches, and they don't consider the possibility that searching for the treasure will incite tumultuous drama that leads to terrible violence (though, to be fair, they are pirates, so it's possible that such violence seems rather run-of-the-mill to them). Nonetheless, the vivid phrase "poisonous brightness" hints at the danger and chaos that will eventually play out on Treasure Island, alerting readers to the fact that Jim is headed toward trouble. 

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Explanation and Analysis—Hating the Island:

Chapter 13 opens with the crew's first morning on the island. Jim describes the surrounding landscape using visual imagery: 

Grey-coloured woods covered a large part of the surface. This even tint was indeed broken up by streaks of yellow sandbreak in the lower lands, and by many tall trees of the pine family, out-topping the others—some singly, some in clumps; but the general coloring was uniform and sad. The hills ran up clear above the vegetation in spires of naked rock. 

In this passage, the novel pays particular attention to what Jim sees, especially the quality of color and light on the island. Treasure Island looks drab, lifeless, and generally unwelcoming, far from the lush landscape one usually associates with Caribbean islands.

Moments later, Jim thinks to himself: 

My heart sank, as the saying is, into my boots; and from that first look onward, I hated the very thought of Treasure Island.

Instead of feeling excited upon his arrival, Jim feels apprehensive. He uses the saying "my heart sank" to describes his disappointment. In this moment Stevenson uses a metaphor; Jim's heart is not literally falling out of his chest and into his shoes, but his unhappiness is so strong that it feels like a physical force. Stevenson uses this figurative language to make the intensity of Jim's emotions more relatable to the reader. The chagrin Jim feels also hints at the danger and violence that befalls him and the other men once they arrive on Treasure Island—an example of foreshadowing.  

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Chapter 14. The First Blow
Explanation and Analysis—The Horrid Scream:

In Chapter 14, Jim hides out on Treasure Island and watches Long John Silver speak with Tom, another member of the ship's crew. In a moment of tension between Silver and Tom, the novel uses auditory imagery to heighten the sense of danger Jim feels while he watches the pair argue: 

Far away out in the marsh there arose, all of a sudden, a sound like the cry of anger, then another on the back of it; and then one horrid, long-drawn scream. The rocks of the Spyglass re-echoed it a score of times; the whole troop of marsh-birds rose again, darkening heaven, with a simultaneous whirr; and long after that death yell was ringing in my brain, silence had reestablished its empire, and only the rustle of the redescending birds and the boom of the distant surges disturbed the languor of the afternoon.

The cry Jim hears rings out suddenly, like an alarm. The sound physically disrupts the surrounding environment. The sky darkens and the birds disperse in alarm. The sound of the scream is so disturbing that it lingers in Jim's mind, a frightening "death yell" that foreshadows Tom's murder moments later. Stevenson presents these sounds to the reader as a way to engage their senses directly, which in turn draws the reader in, allowing them to experience the novel's events more vividly. 

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Chapter 22. How My Sea Adventure Began
Explanation and Analysis—Traversing the Island:

In Chapter 22, the novel uses visual and auditory imagery as Jim searches for Ben Gunn's coracle, a small, round paddleboat made of wicker:

As I continued to thread the tall woods I could hear from far before me not only the continuous thunder of the surf, but a certain tossing of foliage and grinding of boughs which showed me the sea breeze had set in higher than usual. Soon cool draughts of air began to reach me; and a few steps farther I came forth into the open borders of the grove, and saw the sea lying blue and sunny to the horizon, and the surf tumbling and tossing its foam along the beach.

At this moment in the story, Jim is in great danger. Although he has found the coracle, he risks being seen by Long John Silver and the other pirates. Instead of stating this danger or presenting it to the reader in a straightforward way, Stevenson purposefully uses imagery to draw the reader in, focusing on the sense of sound in particular. Special attention is paid to the sound of moving water and wind breezing through the trees. The words "tumbling" and "tossing" also mimic the motion and sound of waves. Nature has a menacing, threatening quality, not unlike Long John Silver and the rest of the mutineers. The intensity of Jim's surroundings lessen once he walks into the open grove, welcomed by the sight of the sea and sun. This physical change, a shift from a feeling of confinement to one of openness, suggests to the reader that danger has passed, if only for the time being. 

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Chapter 34. And Last
Explanation and Analysis—Coins Like Autumn Leaves:

In Chapter 34, Jim, Long John Silver and the rest of the crew finally find the ever-elusive buried treasure. Jim uses vivid imagery and a simile to describe the money he and the others find: 

English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider’s web, round pieces and square pieces […] nearly every variety of money in the world must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out.

Jim compares the endless denominations of coins to the varying colors of autumn leaves. This vivid description underscores the allure of the coins while complicating their seemingly harmless and pleasant nature. Sorting through the treasure is like raking or gathering fallen autumn leaves, an exhausting, tiresome task. In describing the found gold in this way, Stevenson complicates the treasure's allure, reminding the reader of the potential pitfalls and downsides of riches like the ones found at the end of Treasure Island

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