Study Guide

Treasure Island

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Admiral Benbow Inn

Admiral Benbow Inn. Public inn owned by Jim Hawkins’s parents near Black Hill Cove, an isolated and sheltered bay on Devon’s north coast, along the road to Bristol, that is an ideal place for smugglers to come ashore. Tucked between somber hills and the rocky cove, up whose cliffs the surf roars during storms, the inn is remote from even the nearest hamlet, Kitt’s Hole, and conveys an atmosphere of unrelieved loneliness and foreboding. The novel opens with a menacing figure appearing at the inn and demanding a room. Later unmasked as the pirate captain Billy Bones, he long overstays his welcome and so tyrannizes the inn that other guests leave, and Jim’s father weakens and dies an early death. Having chosen the Benbow Inn because of its isolation, Bones lives in daily fear of being discovered by fellow pirates; after they finally appear, he dies of apoplexy, and Jim and his mother flee the inn before the other pirates return—but not before they open his seachest and find a map of Treasure Island. Despite the fear Jim experiences at the inn, he later dreams of returning there while he is experiencing even worse dangers on Treasure Island.

Admiral Benbow Inn is aptly named after a late seventeenth century English admiral, John Benbow, who won renown for fighting pirates in the West Indies and for his heroic death in action against the French after the captains serving under him mutinied.

*Bristol

*Bristol. Busy port city in southwestern England where the expedition of the Hispaniola begins and ends. Bristol is also the home of the crafty one-legged pirate Long John Silver, who signs on for the voyage as ship’s cook. Silver owns a tavern in Bristol called the Spy-glass. While waiting for the Hispaniola to sail, he befriends Jim, accompanies him around Bristol’s docks and teaches him about ships and the sea. To Jim, Bristol is an exciting portal to the world outside, and he says though he “had lived by the shore all my life, I seemed never to have been near the sea till then.”

Hispaniola

Hispaniola. Ship on which Jim and his companions sail from England to Treasure Island and back. Apart from the fact that the Hispaniola is a sturdy two-hundred-ton schooner that sails well and initially has a crew of about twenty men, Stevenson describes little about the ship and even less about its voyages across the Atlantic, thereby avoiding details of navigation with which he was not familiar. Nevertheless, he makes the ship the setting for several of the novel’s most thrilling moments. Even before its voyage begins, the captain expresses concern about the trustworthiness of the crew—which has been assembled by Squire Trelawney—so Jim’s companions “garrison” the after part of the ship in case trouble develops.

A key moment at sea occurs when Jim innocently climbs inside a large apple barrel on deck and overhears the crew plotting mutiny. The mutiny itself occurs ashore, after the ship anchors off Treasure Island, and the mutineers seize the ship only after the captain’s party go ashore to hole up in an old stockade. From that point, the ship becomes a kind of albatross; it is almost useless to the mutineers, who cannot navigate it, and is of limited use to the captain’s party because of their small numbers. The latter choose to take their chances ashore, confident that a relief ship will eventually find them. Meanwhile, the mutineers plunder the ship’s stores, get drunk, and fight among themselves. Their recklessness later allows Jim to retake the ship single-handedly and even work it around to the opposite side of the island, where he beaches it and kills a mutineer in a desperate fight in the ship’s rigging.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island. Small, uninhabited island, located in or near the West Indies—the classic center of pirate activity. The novel’s plot is driven by a map of the island revealing where a pirate named Captain Flint buried the fabulous treasure that Jim and his companions cross the Atlantic to find. Indeed, Stevenson created the map before he wrote the novel around it.

About nine miles long and five miles wide, the island is “like a fat dragon standing up,” with fine, nearly landlocked harbors at each end. Names of the island’s features make it resemble a ship: Three prominent hills, spread out in a line, are called Fore-mast. Main-mast (also called Spy-glass), and Mizzen-mast. Other features include Haulbowline Head, Captain Kidd’s anchorage, and Skeleton Island in the south harbor.

Although the map itself provides exact latitude and longitude, Jim never reveals the island’s exact location to readers because “there is still treasure not yet lifted.” The general direction that the Hispaniola sails to reach the island and remarks at the end of Jim’s narrative about the “nearest port in Spanish America,” where there are “shore boats full of Negroes and Mexican Indians,” suggest that the island is in the Caribbean Sea off Mexico. However, few real islands exist in that region, and the fact that Jim finds a castaway who has been alone on Treasure Island for three years suggests that the island is distant from shipping lanes. It is thus probably best to dismiss questions about the island’s location and accept it as a wholly imaginary creation. Indeed, before embarking on the expedition, Jim spends hours poring over the map of the island and fantasizing about the “savages” and “dangerous animals” he will find there. What he does find is unrealistic topography and flora and fauna uncharacteristic of the West Indies. Apart from its hot climate, the island could be located almost anywhere.

Shortly after the Hispaniola reaches Treasure Island, its crew members separate into mutinous and loyalist parties, and the balance of the narrative traces their skirmishes and maneuverings around the island. The loyalists under Captain Smollett take possession of a well-fortified stockade built by Flint’s men over a freshwater spring, while the mutineers weaken themselves by camping in a feverish swamp.

Treasure Island Historical Context

Piracy
Piracy, which can be loosely defined as lawlessness and usually at sea, has a long history, dating as far back as the...

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Treasure Island Setting

The story begins sometime in the eighteenth century on a remote stretch of the English coast. A mysterious seaman named Billy Bones appears...

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Treasure Island Literary Style

Serialized Novel
Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island was first published in a serialized form. This means that it was...

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Treasure Island Literary Qualities

Stevenson is a master storyteller who knows how to construct an engrossing tale. In Treasure Island, he makes skillful use of plot,...

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Treasure Island Social Sensitivity

In his emphasis on adventure as a formative influence on Jim, Stevenson shows a marked ambiguity toward the Victorian domestic virtues of his...

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Treasure Island Compare and Contrast

1800s: Captain Kidd, a privateer, hired by the British to protect their ships, is accused of piracy and is hanged. He is said to have...

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Treasure Island Topics for Discussion

1. Long John Silver plots a mutiny aboard the Hispaniola, murders a man in cold blood, and betrays his comrades. He is also cheerful,...

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Treasure Island Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. The idea for Treasure Island apparently grew from a treasure map that Stevenson drew for his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, during a...

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Treasure Island Topics for Further Study

Investigate modern forms of piracy. What do they have in common with the piracy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? How do they...

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Treasure Island Related Titles / Adaptations

Treasure Island has fared better at the hands of Hollywood than have most novels. In 1934, Victor Fleming directed a suspenseful...

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Treasure Island Media Adaptations

Treasure Island has been produced as a movie several times. There is Paramount Studios’ 1920 version; MGM’s 1934 production;...

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Treasure Island What Do I Read Next?

Stevenson’s 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde studies conflicting emotions associated with what society...

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Treasure Island For Further Reference

Calder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. A new critical biography with a...

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Treasure Island Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bell, Ian, “Preface,” in Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography, Mainstream Publishing, 1992....

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Treasure Island Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Eigner, Edwin M. Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. Places Stevenson and Treasure Island in the Romantic tradition established in the eighteenth century and defends him from the criticism of F. R. Leavis, who did much to lower Stevenson’s reputation in the mid-twentieth century.

Hellman, George S. The True Stevenson: A Study in Clarification. New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1972. A reprint of a 1925 study which draws upon Stevenson’s letters, conversations with his contemporaries, and his wife’s letters to elucidate points about the author and Treasure Island.

Leatham, James. The Style of Louis Stevenson. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1970. A reprint of a 1908 study which considers Stevenson’s style, vocabulary, and use of Scottish idioms. An examination of Stevenson’s style and usage by a near contemporary in age and background.

McLynn, Frank. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography. London: Hutchinson, 1993. The most comprehensive biography of Stevenson up to its date of publication. Considers the impact of Stevenson’s childhood and young adulthood on Treasure Island. Examines the sources for his story and characters and the immediate success of the work with the public.

Saposnik, Irving S. Robert Louis Stevenson. New York: Twayne, 1974. A good critical overview of Stevenson’s work which places Treasure Island properly in his entire canon. Connects the character Jim Hawkins to other youthful Stevenson heroes in Kidnapped and The Black Arrow (1888). Contains a good study of the character Long John Silver.