While Treasure Island is certainly an adventure story, it’s also about Jim Hawkins growing up and learning to navigate a dangerous, unfamiliar world. Jim’s father dies near the beginning of the novel, leaving him without a figure who can guide him through this process. As we are reminded midway through the book, Jim is “only a boy” at the time of this tale. Some of the more questionable decisions he makes, like sneaking away from camp late at night, can be understood as part of his process of growing up.
The book doesn’t tend to consider Jim’s mother as able to set an example of “manhood” for Jim—indeed, Robert Louis Stevenson made the active decision to exclude nearly all women from the entire tale, as part of writing an adventure “for boys.” As a result, Jim is left to align himself with a number of different adult men over the course of the novel. At first, he mimics the behavior of others on the Hispaniola in considering Captain Smollett a fun-hating, overly strict authority figure; only little by little does he come to respect him as a leader. Dr. Livesey is another male role model for Jim, and certainly the most straightforward in terms of guiding him to make good decisions.
Most surprising, perhaps, among the potential father figures in Jim’s life is Long John Silver. As a pirate and would-be mutineer, Silver is not exactly an obvious role model—and yet Jim, and correspondingly the book’s readers, come to admire the pirate in his courage and ultimately his fondness for Jim. More than anything, Long John Silver is independent, refusing to play by anyone else’s rules, and he is strategic in his decision-making. It is this independence and quickness of spirit that inspires Jim. Growing up, in this book, is not quite a matter of learning what is right and wrong, or learning to be responsible for other people; instead, it’s about becoming a clever, independent person who can be responsible for him- or herself.
Father Figures and “Becoming a Man” ThemeTracker
Father Figures and “Becoming a Man” Quotes in Treasure Island
Now, to tell you the truth, from the very first mention of Long John in Squire Trelawney’s letter, I had taken a fear in my mind that he might prove to be the very one-legged sailor whom I had watched for so long at the old “Benbow.” But one look at the man before me was enough. I had seen the captain, and Black Dog, and the blind man Pew, and I thought I knew what a buccaneer was like—a very different creature, according to me, from this clean and pleasant-tempered landlord.
All the crew respected and even obeyed him. He had a way of talking to each, and doing everybody some particular service. To me he was unweariedly kind; and always glad to see me in the galley, which he kept as clean as a new pin; the dishes hanging up burnished, and his parrot in a cage in one corner.
“Come away, Hawkins,” he would say; “come and have a yarn with John. Nobody more welcome than yourself, my son. Sit you down and hear the news.”
“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.”
“But mark my words here: I’m an easy man—I’m quite the gentleman, says you; but this time it’s serious. Dooty is dooty, mates. I give my vote—death. When I’m in Parlyment, and riding in my coach, I don’t want non of those sea-lawyers in the cabin a-coming home, unlooked for, like the devil at prayers. Wait is what I say, but when the time comes, why let her rip!”
“Hawkins, I put prodigious faith in you,” added the squire.
I began to feel pretty desperate at this, for I felt altogether helpless; and yet, by an odd train of circumstances, it was indeed through me that safety came. In the meantime, talk as we pleased, there were only seven out of the twenty-six on whom we knew we could rely; and out of these seven one was a boy, so that the grown men on our side were six to their nineteen.
Then it was that there came into my head the first of the mad notions that contributed so much to save our lives. If six men were left by Silver, it was plain our party could not take and fight the ship; and since only six were left, it was equally plain that the cabin party had no present need of my assistance. It occurred to me at once to go ashore. In a jiffy I had slipped over the side, and curled up in the fore-sheets of the nearest boat, and almost at the same time she shoved off.
I now felt for the first time the joy of exploration. The isle was uninhabited; my shipmates I had left behind, and nothing lived in front of me but dumb brutes and fowls. I turned hither and thither among the trees. Here and there were flowering plants, unknown to me; here and there I saw snakes, and one raised his head from a ledge of rock and hissed at me with a noise not unlike the spinning of a top.
“Now you’ll hear me. If you’ll come up one by one, unarmed, I’ll engage to clap you all in irons, and take you home to a fair trial in England. If you won’t, my name is Alexander Smollett. I’ve flown my sovereign’s colours, and I’ll see you all to Davy Jones. You can’t find the treasure. You can’t sail the ship—there’s not a man among you fit to sail the ship. You can’t fight us—Gray, there, got away from five of you. Your ship’s in irons, Master Silver; you’re on a lee shore, and so you’ll find. I stand here and tell you so; and they’re the last good words you’ll get from me; for, in the name of heaven, I’ll put a bullet in your back when next I meet you. Tramp, my lad. Bundle out of this, please, hand over hand, and double quick.”
As for the scheme I had in my head, it was not a bad one in itself. I was to go down the sandy spit that divides the anchorage on the east from the open sea, find the white rock I had observed last evening, and ascertain whether it was there or not that Ben Gunn had hidden his boat; a thing quite worth doing, as I still believe. But as I was certain I should not be allowed to leave the enclosure, my only plan was to take French leave, and slip out when nobody was watching; and that was so bad a way of doing it as made the thing itself wrong. But I was only a boy, and I had made my mind up.
“I was in the apple barrel the night we sighted land, and I heard you, John, and you, Dick Johnson, and Hands, who is now at the bottom of the sea, and told every word you said before the hour was out. And as for the schooner, it was I who cut her cable, and it was I that killed the men you had aboard of her, and it was I who brought her where you’ll never see her more, not one of you. The laugh’s on my side; I’ve had the top of the business from the first; I no more fear you than I fear a fly. Kill me, if you please, or spare me.”
“Understand me, Jim,” he said, returning. “I’ve a head on my shoulders, I have. I’m on squire’s side now. I know you’ve got that ship safe somewhere. How you done it, I don’t know, but safe it is. I guess Hands and O’Brien turned soft. I never much believed in any of them. Now you mark me. I ask no questions, nor I won’t let others. I know when a game’s up, I do: and I know a lad that’s staunch. Ah, you that’s young—you and me might have done a power of good together!”
“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.”
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.
Of Silver we have heard no more. That formidable seafaring man with one leg has at last gone clean out of my life; but I daresay he met his old negress, and perhaps still lives in comfort with her and Captain Flint. It is to be hoped so, I suppose, for his chances of comfort in another world are very small.