Themes in R. L. Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson pits good against evil and the characters are categorised accordingly

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There is a plethora of themes in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Some of them are the themes of adventure, greed, honour and patriotism, and the apparent struggle between good and evil.

These aforementioned themes are discussed in the rest of this blog post.

Theme of Adventure

The theme of adventure is just about the most prominent theme in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. For quite a number of characters in the text, the voyage to the treasure island is partly motivated by the spirit of adventure.

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The journey offers characters like Mr Trelawney and Jim the chance to sate their adventurous spirit. This implies that apart from the apparent financial gains the voyage promises, it is as much adventurous.

For Mr Trelawney, a ship officer roughened by his numerous long sea voyages, the journey allows him to sail again and satiate his passion for the sea and a lifetime of adventures it offers. For him, this is not necessarily about the prospective material benefits of the journey, it is rather about his love for the sea and adventures. Trelawney is obviously anxious to get back on the sea again. This surfaces in his letter to Dr Livesey. He writes:

Hang the treasure! It’s the glory of the sea that is drawing me. So now, Livesey, come quickly! Do not waste a moment!

Mr Trelawney, Treasure Island (Chapter 7).

Another character in Mr Trelawney’s shoes is young Jim who is as much enthusiastic and excited going on a sea voyage. The voyage is his first time on the sea; hence his excitement, enthusiasm and curiosity.

I was tired out when, a little before daylight, the ship was ready to sail. Even if I had been twice as tired, I would not have gone to bed; it was all so new and interesting to me the quick commands, the sound of the whistle, the men running to their places in the weak light of the ship’s lamps.

Jim Hawkins, Treasure Island (Chapter 10).

Other characters who share in Mr Trelawney’s and Jim’s sentiments are Dr Livesey and Captain Smollett although their concerns for the security of the crew may have masked their excitement about the impending treasure hunt.

Theme of Greed

The theme of greed in this novel manifests through the characters of the pirates who have infiltrated the crew purely for materialistic reasons. The pirates are portrayed as a pack of greedy fellows.

They are motivated by the promise of wealth and the extravagant lives they hope to lead afterwards. This is justified by their heinous plans. Long John Silver spearheads their schemes. He and his other pirates plan to kill all the other men on the crew as soon as the ship arrives at Treasure Island.

However, there is a wild twist of events as the pirates gang up on their leader, John Silver, to vent their frustration and bitterness over the disappearance of the sum of seven hundred thousand pounds. Regardless of whether they had found the money or not, they might still have turned against their leader. They would have quarreled over the sharing of their loot anyway.

Seeing that the rug has been swept off his feet by his fellow pirates, Long John Silver leaves their fold to save his neck. He allies with the honest people on the crew. This way, he stands a chance of having a share of any material gains.

Apart from the pirates whose wanton greed is evident in the text, the other characters are not driven by excessive human greed.

Theme of Good versus Evil

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson pits good against evil and the characters are categorised accordingly — they are either good or evil. The conflict between people in the two categories is unavoidable.

The good characters in this case are Mr Trelawney, Dr Livesey, Abraham Gray, Captain Smollett, John Hunter, Richard Joyce, Thomas Redruth and, of course, Jim Hawkins. The other characters who are twice the number of the good characters fight on the side of evil.

One character that doesn’t seem to fit into any category is Long John Silver. He is a complex character who schemes his way out of the evil group but is not fully integrated into the group of good characters because of his fundamentally evil nature. He is not entirely into anyone of these categories. The good men strip him of their company at a port in South America on their return journey with a bag of money worth about three hundred pounds.

The tension in the novel builds up with the conflict between good and evil. While in the end, good triumphs over evil, it comes at a great cost — the loss of seventeen out of the twenty-six men that started the journey.

Theme of Honour and Patriotism

The theme of honour and patriotism is very prominent in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The two virtues are characteristic of characters portrayed as good and honest in the text. They manifest in characters such as Smollett, Trelawney, Livesey and Jim on numerous occasions.

A good example of such display is when Captain Smollett flies the English flag in front of the log house where he and his men are taking refuge while the pirates fly their own Jolly Roger. He refuses to lower it even when Trelawney suggests he does so since it makes them vulnerable to the pirates’ attack. This display of loyalty to their country’s flag despite the risks involved is a demonstration of the theme of patriotism.

Jim’s refusal to escape with Dr. Livesey during the latter’s visit to the pirates’ camp to attend to the ailing buccaneers signifies his steadfast adherence to honour. He premises his refusal on the account that he has secured the trust of Long John Silver. Jim is prepared to sacrifice his life rather than compromise his honour, which reneging on his commitment to Silver would entail.

The pirates, regardless of the evil they represent, exhibit traces of honour as well. Silver, for instance, upholds his agreement to permit Dr. Livesey’s visit to heal the ailing crew members, and he too is welcomed into Smollett’s camp for peace negotiations after an initial round of conflict. Both parties exhibit a respect for not exploiting their enemies’ trust during combat.

What’s more? Both Smollett and Silver revere the Bible, albeit to varying degrees. Silver takes issue when Dick Johnson removes a section of his Bible, a reason for which the latter is ostracized from the group. Captain Smollett also carries a Bible during the journey. Apparently, both the honest and wicked factions share some religious sentiments, demonstrating that even in the midst of conflict, certain values persist.

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