Criticism

The Concept of Money

When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, he was still financially dependent on his father. So the pressure of writing a good story, one that had public appeal, was not the only concern on his mind as he progressed through this romantic tale of high adventure. Stevenson was out to prove that he could write well that he could support himself through his own publications. He was thirty-one years old, married, and the stepfather of two children. It was time that he earned his title as head of household. Therefore, whether it was a conscious or subconscious act, it is no wonder that the subject of money is woven through this work. This might be a story of adventure and a tale of a young boy coming of age, but neither of those two elements pushes the story forward. If readers looked closely, they will come to see that the real power that drives this novel is not adventure but money.

No more than five lines into the story, young Jim Hawkins makes reference to money. He has been asked by Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey to write from memory the things that occurred on their treasure-hunt adventure. Hawkins is to give all the particular details of their trip except for the “bearings of the island,” because “there is still treasure not yet lifted.” With this comment, Stevenson sets up his readers to focus on the money. Readers immediately become alert to the idea that there is still treasure to be found. Like the pirates who have buried their loot on some deserted island, Stevenson has buried the idea of money in his readers’ minds. And like the characters themselves who push their way across the ocean, readers plod their way through the story, hoping they too discover in the pages of this story some clue regarding the island’s location. If they can uncover that secret, maybe they too can set out on their own adventure and claim the remaining treasure. Having set this tone, Stevenson next introduces his characters, each with his own claims and desires for money.

The first to arrive on the scene is the pirate Billy Bones. One of the interesting and mysterious features of this old seaman is the large chest he drags behind him. Since the title of this novel is Treasure Island and since, according to old myths, it is said that treasures are often buried in old chests, readers, as well as the characters in this story cannot help but wonder what Bones is hiding in that chest. Bones throws a few coins around, promising to pay Hawkins to keep a lookout for a one-legged man and prepaying Hawkins’ father for his keep. Readers as well as the affected characters wonder where those coins come from and if there are more to be found at their source. But Bones’ payments soon become a point of contention when he often forgets to give young Hawkins his wages. Bones also forgets, or refuses, to pay Hawkins’ father for his extended keep. And these omissions come into play later, after Bones has died. That is when young Hawkins and his mother rationalize their rifling through Bones’ mysterious chest in search of what they consider is rightfully owed to them. They find what they want or rather what they have justified is theirs. And they discover even more. Hawkins comes upon the map that will take the story into its further development— the search for more money. It is interesting to note, before moving on with the rest of the story, that Hawkins’ relationships with Bones and with their fellow villagers, as far as Stevenson portrays it, are all based on money. There is little mention of any emotional involvement either when Bones dies or when Hawkins father dies. The emphasis of the story is on the survival of those left behind, and that survival is based on money. Debts must be paid. The Admiral Benbow Inn must reopen as soon as possible so the flow of money is not interrupted.

The story progresses with Dr. Livesey comprehending the significance of the map that Hawkins shows him. When he concludes that it is a treasure map, plans are immediately made to find the island. Here a medical doctor, upon whom a whole countryside depends, leaves his patients, as does young Hawkins leave his widowed mother, all in the name of gold. It is also in the name of money that the doctor warns his comrades they must be silent. No one must know that the true motivation of their sea journey (like the motivation for writing this story) is money. However, Stevenson knows that the thought of money...

(The entire section is 1808 words.)

The Tools of the Writing Craft

Stevenson’s Treasure Island has the characteristics of a successful suspense novel and an entertaining story. There is a lot in this...

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The Double Life of Robert Louis Stevenson

My principal qualification for writing about Robert Louis Stevenson is affection. He is the only author of whom I can say that I have been...

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