Treasure Island Summary and Analysis
The book begins with the narrator, Jim Hawkins, explaining his motive for telling this story: Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and other gentlemen have requested him to write down the details his experience with Treasure Island, since the treasure remains on the island. He proceeds by recounting a pirate that resided with his family while he was a boy, living at his father's inn, the "Admiral Benbow," near Bristol, England, during some unspecified part of the 18th century. One day, an old, brown, dirty, ragged seamen with a sabre cut on his cheek, arrives at the inn and satisfied that the inn contains few people, throws down some gold money and stays for several months. Calling himself a Captain, he often sings (especially when drunk) the following verse:
"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest-
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum."
During the day, he spends his time near the cove or the cliff, looking for something or someone through his telescope. Without fail, he always inquires if any new seaman has appeared and if they had, he kept a low profile. Even more mysterious, he also hires Jim for a four penny a month to "weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg." The boy is in awe of the stories he told, dreadful stories about far-off places told in crude language. Even more awe-inspiring, the man had a chest upstairs whose contents no one had ever seen.
After a few months, the initial money for lodging ran out and Jim's father was too afraid to ask the stranger for more money, a worry that the narrator believes led to his premature death. Jim, however, was significantly less terrified of the pirate than everyone else.
One night, Dr. Livesey arrived to check the condition of the narrator's father. The captain sings of the "dead man's chest," once again and then bangs on the table for silence. Everyone in the room follows his request, except for Dr. Livesey. The captain repeats his request, which again, Dr. Livesey ignores, and then calls the captain names and warns him that if continues drinking in this quantity, he will die. The captain pulls a knife, but eventually backs off the doctor. The doctor leaves, but not before warning the stranger that he is a magistrate and if he so much as disturbs any of the peace, he shall be severely punished.
Significantly, the first chapter sets the background for many of the stylistic elements that Robert Louis Stevenson later explores in Treasure Island. First, Stevenson's narrative style is notable. The first paragraph is a good example of Stevenson's narrative technique, as well as a model of romance suggestion. Its single sentence conveys a degree of haste as it plunges the reader directly into the action. The reader learns that the story is to be told by one of the participants in an adventure; the adventure is to concern buried treasure, some of which still remains on the island where it was concealed; the adventurers are gentleman who hop to benefit from their discovery; and their adversaries in the hunt are pirates. By the end of the first chapter, all the elements of the subsequent action are established, an impressive feat in a chapter of this length. The harried pace of the narrative continues throughout the book, marking a distinctive style.
More significantly, Stevenson's narrative technique is significant because of the first person narrative. In this book, the majority of action is to be seen through the eyes of a small boy, innocent and childlike. This however, is not entirely true because the older Jim Hawkins relates the child's perspective, therefore in some places perspective and focus can be added to events that only gain significance with hindsight. In this chapter, for instance, the older Jim Hawkins anticipates the death of his father, something that has not yet occurred.
The narrative, however, accompanied with the vagueness of the date and time adds to the timeless and mythical quality of the novel. The tone of the novel from the beginning is mysterious, dark, and increasingly ominous. Jim's father is weak (an unknown cause) and the reader realizes his death is eminent, the pirate is clearly watching for someone he does not want to see, the unknown contents of the treasure chest, all add to the mystery surrounding the novel, a tome that is established with exquisite skill. The setting adds to the mood. The place is a secluded inn, cut off from hope of human intervention or human guidance.
The ending action between the doctor and the pirate sets up one of the continuous themes of the novel - a comparison and confrontation between the good and the bad, the respectable and the disrespectable. The two's mere appearance is a stark contrast from each other. The ragged pirate with his patched clothing stands strikingly different than the tailored doctor. Another metaphor of the book is introduced in the first chapter, as well, is the metaphor of money. It is significant that the people in the first chapter believe that the pirate has a lot of money but won't pay the bill, something that helps speed the deterioration of the health of Jim's father. Also, Jim is paid by the pirate to help, something that increases the two's relationship. Money is the ruling force of the novel, motivating people's actions, as it is in this chapter.
In January, a few months after the first chapter concludes, a strange man, wearing a cutlass and missing two fingers, appears at the inn inquiring about a man with a cut on his check, someone he refers to as Bill. The narrator explains that Bill is on the bluffs and will likely return that evening. Making sure the boy cannot warn Bill of his presence, the stranger makes the boy hide until Bill appears. When Bill finally appears, he looks like he has seen a ghost when he sees the stranger, whom he identifies as Black Dog, one of his shipmates. After telling the boy to leave, the two talk together in low voices. The only thing that the boy overhears is the captain speaking about all "swinging," (meaning hanging), before there is a loud commotion. After the outcry, Black Dog, with a cut on his shoulder flees, the captain pursues him, both with drawn cutlasses. The captain aims at Black Dog but misses and hits the inn's signboard instead, leaving Black Dog to escape.
Afterwards, the captain orders rum but before Jim can deliver it to the captain, he hears a loud fall and finds the captain unconscious on the floor. Naturally, Jim assumes the problem stems from his recent fight with Black Dog but Dr. Livesy (whose abrupt arrival is attributed to a visit to check on Jim's father) diagnoses a stroke. In the examination of the patient, the doctor uncovers a tattoo of a man hanging from a gallows with the words "Billy Bones his fancy." Assuming that the man's mane is Billy Bones, the doctor bleeds the captain. Finally, the man awakens seeking Black Dog. The doctor assures him that Black Dog has gone and warns him that if he drinks again, he will likely undergo another stroke and die. The man, however, denies that he is Billy Bones. Jim and the doctor carry the man upstairs, the doctor telling Jim that the man should be in bed for a week because of the bleeding.
One of the most important symbols of this chapter is the notch in the inn's signboard that occurs when Billy Bones (the stranger) is attempting to shoot his shipmate, Black Dog. The notch is symbolic, foreshadowing the tumultuousness that the arrival of Billy Bones brings to the inn and Jim's family. The shot is not on purpose, nor intended for the sign, but like the inn and Jim's family, the sign is an innocent bystander in the mysterious feud between the captain and his shipmates.
One of the driving forces in the plot of this novel is the use of coincidence of the characters being in "the right place, at the right time." In this chapter, the prime example of this literary tool is the arrival of the doctor after the fight but before the captain comes to consciousness. Critics have long thought that this, the use of coincidence, was the weakest element of Stevenson's novel.
Perhaps the technique that tells us the most about the types of people in the novel is Robert Louis Stevenson's superb use of dialogue. Particularly in this chapter, we learn much about Billy Bones and Black Dog, as well as the doctor, from the manner in which they speak. For example, comments such as "this'll be as good as drink to my mate," "bless his art, I say again," and "we have seen a sight of times," give the impression that Black Bones and Black Dog are from a certain social class because of both their dialect and their grammar. Likewise, the doctors use of language so precise as "come, now, make an effort," and "I clear my conscience" shows that he is a respectable gentlemen, used to being obeyed.
Robert Louis Stevenson, himself, claims that Treasure Island is merely a study in romance and adventure, and one should not analyze it very seriously. From the beginning, however, certain themes stand out. In this chapter, as in the book, we see an amoral world seen through the eyes of an innocent boy. By viewing the obviously corrupt men and the doctor through Jim's eyes, the reader more clearly sees the corruptness that surrounds the boy.
As the chapter begins, Billy Bones tries to bribe Jim to bring him rum since he is suffering from alcohol withdrawal. Jim agrees to bring him just one drink and when he brings the alcohol to the captain, he tells Jim that within a week lubbers (sailors) will be looking for him, in order to give him the black spot and take his money. Bones, however, has plans in order to thwart his friend's ambitions. He instructs Jim that if he sees the one-legged seaman or Black Dog or if the black spot (a summons) is put on the captain, Jim should immediately ride to Dr. Livesey and lead him to capture all of old Flint's crew at the inn. Bones then explains that he was Flint's first mate and the men will be after his sea-chest. If Jim follows these instructions, the captain promises that he will share his treasure with him.
Instead of being excited, however, Jim is nervous that Billy Bones will kill him because he knows too much and his promise to share his wealth with the young boy. Suddenly, however, Jim's father dies and he forgets all his worries about the pirate because of his grief. The next day, amidst the people mourning, Bones comes downstairs and gets extremely drunk. No one dares to stand up to the man, and the doctor is far away on another case, also unable to come to Jim and his mother's assistance.
The day after Billy Bone's disturbing behavior, Jim observes a blind man wearing a tattered old cloak, tapping a stick, approaching the inn. Innocently, the man asks where he is but when Jim tells him and leads him to the entrance to the inn, the man cruelly grabs a hold of Jim's arm and threatens to break his arm if he does not take him directly to Billy Bones, introducing him as "Here's a friend for you, Bill." When he sees the blind man, Bill Bones seems visibly upset. Directed by the blind man, Jim brings Billy's left-hand to the blind man's right-hand, and something is passed between the two men. Soon after, the blind man leaves and Bill proclaims "Ten o'clock! Six hours. We'll do them yet." He springs up from his seat, but before he can do anything, he falls over dead. Traumatized by witnessing his second death that week, Jim begins to sob.
This chapter is one of the most action-filled chapters of the book, typical of the style in which the novel is written. As Robert Louis Stevenson described, this is a faced paced adventure book, not a slow book full of details. In nearly every page, something significant happens in this chapter: the death of Jim's father, the arrival of the blind man, the death of Billy Jones, and the mysterious meeting at 10 o'clock. In a book of this torrid pace, it is interesting to see what type of people and events receive extra attention and any description of details.
Most notable, in this chapter, there is no description of the funeral or real tragedy or sadness about his father's death, except for when it fits into the plot. Death in Treasure Island is quick, clean, and above all, efficient for the rapid advancement of the plot. It never provokes a sense of real pathos even in the case of Jim's father, in this chapter. Removal of characters by natural or "accidental" means is a step in the process of casting off the potential obstacles to free movement in the adventure to come. As one critic claimed, "Treasure Island is one of the most satisfying adventure stories ever told primarily because it is the most unhampered."
Instead of descriptions regarding the father or Jim's feelings and his mother's sadness, the majority of detail in this chapter is devoted to describing the physical appearance and actions of the pirates, Pew and Billy Budd. These descriptions, including the way they talk, their mannerisms, their cuts and general ratty clothes and unkempt faces and appearances, reveal the ruthlessness of these men, the extent that they will do whatever necessary to accomplish their mysterious past, and thus serve to further the plot.
What is the purpose of the character of Billy Bones in the book? In the first three chapters, Billy Bones seems an important figure, but at the end of the third chapter, he quickly dies. His purpose is twofold. First, he serves to further the plot. His coming to the inn represents the beginning incident in the chain of events which leads to the adventure on Treasure Island; he also foreshadows the subsequent events in a manner calculated to increase suspense and arouse the readers emotions. He unites in his person the past, present, and future. His present dread of encountering "the seafaring man with one leg" is the result of his past association with Treasure Island and at the same time points forward to those future events which involve Jim and his friends in Bill Bone's past. He makes the connection between the everyday life of Jim and his family and, with plausibility, introduces the mystery which the book is centered around. His death, in this chapter, marks the end of the first movement of the story and motivates the second part. It is Bill's death's which enables Jim and his mother to acquire the map of Treasure Island.
At the death of Billy Bones, Jim immediately tells his mother everything about the strange men and the two quickly realize that they are in severe danger. Even though they are owed some money because of Billy Bones extended stay at their inn, the two decide to leave immediately in order to avoid encountering Black Dog, the blind man, or other despicable characters. Although the most prudent idea would be to get Dr. Livesey, Jim does not want to leave his mother alone and so abandons that thought. Instead, the two decide to seek help at the local village.
Upon arriving at the local village, mother and son are surprised and disappointed that no one will help them fend off the pirates at their inn. Dismayed but not dissuaded, Jim's mother is determined to get the money owed to her and so the two, this time armed with a rifle, return to the inn. Upon arriving at their premises, Jim bolts the door and retrieves a key from Billy Bones' neck that opens his treasure chest. Jim's mother unlocks the chest and finds a myriad of different items, including a brand-new suit, pistols, compasses, a quadrant, and various trinkets. Finally, at the bottom of the chest, is what she is looking for, a bag of gold coins with currency from many nations, and papers tied up in an oilcloth. While she is searching for the exact amount of money due to her, Jim hears the tap-tap-tapping of the blind man. After trying the bolted door, the blind man reluctantly leaves. Mother and son take the money counted out so far as well as the oilcloth packet. As they make their way back to the village, they hear voices and see a lantern coming their way. Suddenly, Jim's mother faints, and in order to protect them from the quickly approaching lantern, Jim drags her under the arch of a bridge.
Jim's mother is characterized for the first time in this novel as someone who is courageous and concerned for the welfare of her family. Despite the readily apparent danger and the villagers unwillingness to help her, she turns back against the odds in order to retrieve the money that is owed her. Her courage, honesty, and stubbornness is also evident when she demands the precise amount of money owed her, even amongst the danger of the pirates at her door.
In this chapter, a major theme of the novel is also expanded and furthered. Since its publication, critics have classified this novel as a "classical adventure." As one of the main thematic elements of a classical adventure is the manner in which the protagonist of the novel becomes involved in the actions. In this case, Jim, the protagonist, is initially an innocent bystander but through events out of his own control he becomes an active participant in the story in the book, determining his own course of action. In this chapter, Jim begins this transformation. Instead of passively being controlled and ordered around by Billy Bones and the blind man, he takes control and helps save his mother. In this way, the story is not only a quest but also a story of Jim's progress towards maturity.
Another interesting aspect of this chapter is the use of domestic images to contrast between Jim's situation and the normal situation of other people. As Jim and his mother approach the village where no one will help them, all is calm and quiet and the images is of warmth and security, something that stands in contrast to the terror that the hero is involved with. In this passage, Stevenson also associates the name Captain Flint with the terror, because "the name was well enough known here to have a great weight of terror." The return to the inn and the searching of the dead man's body, under these circumstances, become even more an act of heroism, and again marks the transition between the passive and active character of Jim.
As the men with the lantern and loud voices approach, overcome with curiosity, Jim peaks out behind his hiding place. Eight men, including the blind man identified as Pew, arrive at the inn door and are surprised to find it wide open. Realizing that this means someone has been there, Pew rapidly orders the men inside to search for both Bill and his chest. The men, of course, find Bill dead, and he and his chest already searched. They report, however, that they've found most of the money but not "Flint's fist." With Pew guiding the group, the men destroy the inn searching for either Jim or his mother. Angrily, Pew demands that the group search the surrounding area for the two but the men are oblivious to his command. Pew continues to scream at them, reminding them that they could be filthy rich and even strikes them with a stick, something that provokes an argument.
Suddenly, everyone hears horses galloping and a pistol-shot, a clear sign of danger. Frightened, the men flee abandoning Pew. When the horses approach, confused, Pew falls under a horse's hoof and is trampled to death by people who have heard of the plight of Jim and his mother and are coming to give assistance. They carry Jim's mother back to the inn and in short time, she regains her consciousness. The inn, however, has been torn to pieces. Jim tells the men that he has a packet, something that he believes that the pirates were searching for, the oilcloth packet of papers, and that he wants to give it to Dr. Livesy for safekeeping. Supervisor Dance, the leader of the men, take Jim up on the horse of one of the riders to accompany them to Livesey's.
Chapter V is full of foreshadowing of the future theme of the novel: it is a preliminary skirmish between the forces of good and evil - presented as "our side" (or Jim's side) versus the others, another true aspect of the adventure story style. This drama serves to heighten the already excited atmosphere and to foreshadow the future. The aura of romance is added to the incident to make it seem like more than a mere brawl, for example "the window of the captain's room was thrown open with a slam and a jingle of broken glass; and a man leaned out into the moonlight, head and shoulders, and addressed the blind beggar on the road below him." The words and description of this event make it seem much more like a romantic adventure than a mere looting of an innocent inn.
The role of the blind man Pew in the plot is also interesting to consider. Along with Billy Bones, in the previous chapter, the pair of pirates introduces the two apparently contradictory aspects of personality combined in Long John Silver, whom we meet later in the novel. The blind man Pew is the nightmare of every child - a deformed stranger, apparently harmless, who offers friendship and innocently request help, but suddenly demonstrates remarkable cruelness and strength. When his narrative purpose is over in this chapter, he too succumbs to death, again rapidly advancing the plot. While Stevenson could have let Billy Bones and Pew wander off somewhere and simply disappear, one of the brilliant parts of this book is the lack of unanswered questions at the end of the novel. Their death is also appropriate because they prelude the pirate Long John Silver but die before his entrance into the novel.
Jim's character is further advanced in this chapter, as he begins to become more courageous and take control of his actions. With his taking care of his mother and then his decision to personally deliver the papers (which he knows to be extremely dangerous) to Dr. Livesy, he begins to exhibit characteristics of a hero of an adventure novel. No longer are events merely happening to him, but he is trying to take a part in the action as well.
Upon their arrival to Livesey's home, Jim and Mr. Dance learn that the doctor is having dinner with no one else but Squire Trelawney. Consequently, the two head to his residence. Dance relates the tumultuous events that surrounded the inn and afterwards Jim gives Livesy the oilskin packet. Jim is given something to eat and invited to stay overnight with the doctor.
After Dance leaves, Squire Trelawney explains to Jim that Flint was the most bloodthirsty pirate that ever sailed the seas, an Englishman who was far superior to even Blackbeard. Naturally, the man assumes that if Jim has a clue to Flint's treasure he will hire a ship and search it out. Excitedly, Dr. Livesy opens the packet with his medical scissors and discovers a book and a sealed piece of paper. The book appears to be an accounting of the loot of the treasure, complete with the exact amounts plundered and where he gained these. The piece of paper was a map of an island with words "bulk of treasure here." In the same handwriting, on the back of the map, was information regarding coordinates and how to get the treasure.
Although Jim was slightly puzzled, the two older men were thrilled by the contents. The Squire declared that he would immediately set out in order to outfit a ship and the three of them would go and search for the pirates' loot. The doctor agrees to the voyage but is scared of merely one man - the doctor, believing the man incapable of not telling others what he is doing.
As Part I comes to a close, the people most involved with the plot must literally shed their old selves in order to assume the roles of adventurers that will be necessary on their upcoming expedition. Each, the future cabin boy Jim, who goes home to finalize things with his mother, the squire who intends to outfit the ship, and the doctor who returns to his practice to close it, must shed their old identities and do so literally and figuratively at the conclusion of this chapter.
Also, we are introduced to another major character in the plot, Squire Trelawney, who is one of a plethora of characters who assumes a type of surrogate father role to Jim. Like Jim's real father, however, it quickly becomes apparent that Trelawney is lacking in personal authority. He cannot keep his own or other people's counsel - "you cannot hold your tongue" Livesy tells him regrettably. Because he is the highest in the social hierarchy , and the way in which he is introduced in the this chapter (the squire, sitting complete with a pipe in his plush surroundings), one might assume that he becomes the dominant father figure, but this would be completely false because of his inadequacies, as detailed above.
Again, Robert Louis Stevenson uses the technique of foreshadowing at the end of the chapter, as Dr. Livesey predicts what will be the downfall of the trio setting out. The person who most endangers the expedition will be the squire, as Dr. Livesey fears at the end of this chapter. Also in this chapter notice the use of coincidence in advancing the plot, as Livesey is conveniently having dinner with the squire just as Jim is arriving so there is no need for the pair to waste time trying to locate each other.
Treasure Island Essays and Related Content
- Treasure Island: Essays
- Treasure Island: E-Text
- Treasure Island: Questions
- Treasure Island: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Robert Louis Stevenson: Biography
- Treasure Island Summary
- About Treasure Island
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-13
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-27
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 28-34
- Related Links on Treasure Island
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources