The plot of Treasure Island is structured around the hunt for a fortune of massive proportions. The existence of this fortune tempts nearly all the characters in the novel—few are exempt from such a dream, from Long John Silver and Captain Smollett to Jim Hawkins himself. Importantly, the story never really challenges this desire. The pirates might be the murderous enemies of the protagonist, but not because they are greedy while the others remain selfless and unconcerned with money. Treasure is instead, throughout the book, considered as an unquestioned good. It’s something that can be sought and striven after without this search implying greed or sin.
Still, the idea of treasure functions in another way in the book, too, playing off the double meaning of the word “fortune,” which can mean both “wealth” and “fate.” At one point, Israel Hands declares that the voyage on the Hispaniola might always have been cursed with bad fortune—that death and destruction were, perhaps, fated to follow all those on board the ship. The fact that some sailors perish while three mutineers, not to mention the five survivors of the captain’s side, survive is due in part to their ingenuity but also to whether they enjoy good fortune or bad.
The treasure chest, rather than making up part of a larger system of morality in the book, simply lies in wait, ready for the lucky ones who discover it. Similarly, the fortunes of the characters in Treasure Island are subject to the whims of treacherous life on the sea.
Fortune and Greed ThemeTracker
Fortune and Greed Quotes in Treasure Island
I remember him looking round the cove and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
Now, if I can't get away nohow, and they tip me the black spot, mind you, it's my old sea-chest they're after; you get on a horse—you can, can't you? Well, then, you get on a horse, and go to-well, yes, I will!—to that eternal Doctor swab, and tell him to pipe all hands—magistrates and sich—and he'll lay'em aboard at the 'Admiral Benbow'—all old Flint's crew, man and boy, all on 'em that's left. I was first mate, I was, old Flint's first mate, and I'm the on'y one as knows the place. He gave it me at Savannah, when he lay a-dying, like as if I was to now, you see.
The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island, with latitude and longitude, soundings, names of hills, and bays and inlets, and every particular that would be needed to bring a ship to a safe anchorage upon its shores. It was about nine miles long and five across, shaped, you might say, like a fat dragon standing up, and had two fine landlocked harbours, and a hill in the centre part marked "The Spy-glass." There were several additions of a later date; but, 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.”
“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.”
“I were in Flint’s ship when he buried the treasure; he and six along—six strong seamen. They was ashore nigh on a week, and us standing off and on in the old Walrus. One fine day up went the signal, and here come Flint by himself in a little boat, and his head done up in a blue scarf. The sun was getting up, and mortal white he looked about the cutwater. But, there he was, you mind, and the six all dead—dead and buried. How he done it, not a man aboard us could make out. It was battle, murder, and sudden death, leastways—him against six. Billy Bones was the mate; Long John, he was quartermaster; and they asked him where the treasure was. ‘Ah,’ says he, ‘you can go ashore, if you like, and stay,’ he says; ‘but as for the ship, she’ll beat up for more, by thunder!’ That’s what he said.”
“If that doctor was aboard,” he said, “I’d be right enough in a couple of turns; but I don’t have no manner of luck, you see, and that’s what’s the matter with me.”
“This here’s an unlucky ship—this Hispaniola, Jim,” he went on, blinking. “There’s a power of men been killed in this Hispaniola—a sight o’ poor seamen dead and gone since you and me took ship to Bristol. I never seen sich dirty luck, not I.”
Israel could move about; he was now armed; and if he had been at so much trouble to get rid of me, it was plain that I was meant to be the victim.
Yet I felt sure that I could trust him in one point, since in that our interests jumped together, and that was in the disposition of the schooner. We both desired to have her stranded safe enough, in a sheltered place, and so that, when the time came, she could be got off again with as little labour and danger as might be; and until that was done I considered that my life would certainly be spared.
“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.