Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on February 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 278

Jim Hawkins

Jim Hawkins, the principal narrator, is a bright, courageous boy. His father owns the Admiral Benbow Inn, where Billy Bones hides. In Bones’s sea chest, Jim finds a map of Captain Flint’s buried treasure.

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Dr. Livesey

Dr. Livesey treats Jim’s dying father and later the wounded mutineers on Treasure Island.

Squire Trelawney

Squire Trelawney finances the treasure hunt and outsmarts the pirates.

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Captain Smollett

Captain Smollett is the captain of the expedition’s ship, the Hispaniola.

Billy Bones

Captain Bill Bones, called Billy Bones, steals the treasure map and sings, “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest.” He dies of fright when the pirates bring him his death warning.

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Black Dog

Black Dog discovers Bones’s hiding place and is almost killed in a fight in the inn parlor.

Blind Pew

Blind Pew is a deformed pirate who delivers the Black Spot death notice. He is trampled to death by the mounted revenue officers who attack the pirate gang searching for Billy Bones’s sea chest.

Long John Silver

Long John Silver is a one-legged ship’s cook who owns a pet parrot called Captain Flint. He gathers a crew for the Hispaniola, from pirates whom he can control. Once, he saves Jim from their fury. He manages to get back to the West Indies with a bag of coins.

Ben Gunn

Ben Gunn is a pirate marooned by Captain Flint on Treasure Island. He moves the treasure and thus can keep it from the pirates and turn it over to Squire Trelawney.

Israel Hands

Israel Hands is a pirate shot by Jim after he tries to kill Jim with a knife.

Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on February 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 753

Treasure Island includes a wide range of vivid and memorable characters, drawn with great subtlety and psychological perception. There is a certain moral ambiguity in all of Stevenson's characters, a kind of "Jekyll and Hyde" dual nature: the good characters are often flawed and the villains tempered with positive qualities.

This note of ambiguity is evident from the beginning of the story. Mrs. Hawkins risks both her own life and Jim’s when she ransacks Billy Bones’s sea-chest to collect the old pirate’s rent money but wastes valuable time by counting out every coin to ensure that she takes no more than is due her. Squire Trelawney is another example of flawed goodness. Even though he is strictly instructed by Doctor Livesey not to divulge the purpose of the voyage, Trelawney foolishly confides the secret of the treasure map to Long John Silver, risking a mutiny that will endanger all the crew. Trelawney is blind to the blunt honesty of Captain Smollett while allowing himself to be taken in by Silver’s flattery and deception.

Perhaps the greatest moral enigma is the one-legged Long John Silver. The ship’s cook on the outward voyage, Silver is a model of good cheer, showing unfailing kindness to Jim and instructing him in the particulars of seamanship. He is a striking figure as he moves about the ship with his crutch and his green parrot, “Captain Flint,” perched on his shoulder. Yet beneath the veneer of sociability, Silver is actually the ringleader of the pirates, ruthlessly plotting to seize the ship and dispose of all but his own hands—as Jim learns in the famous scene when he hides in an apple barrel and overhears Silver’s plans.

A shrewd opportunist, Silver is quick to assess a situation and ally himself with the stronger party. He is glib and manipulative, capable of being vicious or ingratiating as the situation demands. Yet he shows genuine affection in his relationship with Jim and is willing to risk his life to save him from the mutinous pirates. As the pirates’ plans are thwarted by Jim’s intervention, the mutineers turn on one another, and Silver appears less sinister in comparison to some of the others. Despite his wickedness, Silver is such an appealing character that he dominates the story through the force of his personality, overshadowing the other characters and offering an unforgettable example of the moral ambiguity of the adult world.

The members of the loyal party offer neither the colorfulness nor the appeal of Long John Silver, but they are skillfully drawn as stock eighteenth-century English character types. Squire Trelawney is a robust, quick-tempered, hard-riding country squire. A poor judge of character, he abuses the honest Captain Smollett and foolishly confides the purpose of the voyage to Silver.

Doctor Livesey, a physician and county magistrate, represents both the strengths and limitations of rationality. He shows bravery, integrity, and devotion to duty, even offering to treat the wounded pirates—yet he is no match for the cunning and duplicity of Silver. His are ordinary domestic virtues that prove of little value in extraordinary situations. Captain Smollett is an experienced seaman, blunt and honest almost to a fault, who undertakes a risky voyage against his better judgment. He misreads the spirit of the crew and fails to anticipate the incipient mutiny.

In many respects a typical British boy of his age, Jim has lead a sheltered life at the Admiral Benbow Inn. The arrival of Billy Bones triggers his desire to explore the larger world beyond his home. Although he has grown up on the seacoast, Jim knows little of the seafaring life. His adventures constitute an initiation into adulthood, by means of which he learns survival skills and moral lessons that far eclipse the typical education of a British “gentleman.” Whereas many of his adult companions flounder in times of crisis, Jim—despite his youth and his rashness—proves himself capable of holding up under stress. It is he who first discovers and later thwarts the pirates’ mutiny.

Jim’s most dangerous physical test comes when he slays the pirate Israel Hands, who has pinned him to the ship’s mast with a knife. Jim passes his greatest moral test when, offered the chance to escape with Doctor Livesey, he refuses to leave and thereby break his word to Long John Silver. Jim’s courage—both physical and moral—surpasses that of the adults around him and wins him a secure place in the adult world.


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Mr. Arrow

Mr. Arrow is the first mate on the Hispaniola but not a good one. His weakness is alcohol. He tries to befriend the pirates not so much because he likes them but because he does not know how to separate himself from them and therefore to regulate them. One day, while upon the open seas, he disappears. It is not known if he is thrown overboard or if he falls overboard in a drunken stupor.

Black Dog

Black Dog, whose distinguishing mark is two missing fingers on his left hand, is the first pirate to find Billy Bones. Black Dog fights with Bones and is injured but manages to run away. He is later seen with the blind man Pew, who wants to find the treasure map. Later in the story, when Jim Hawkins first meets Long John Silver, Black Dog is sitting in the pub. When Hawkins points him out, Silver denies knowing him. This is Stevenson’s first hint that Long John Silver might not be as honest as he pretends.

Billy Bones

Billy Bones appears in the beginning of this story and is the first pirate Jim Hawkins meets. Bones stays at the Hawkins’ inn, the Admiral Benbow, scaring all the villagers with his sea stories and his dictatorial meanness. Bones pays Hawkins to watch for a man with one leg, someone who is obviously searching for Bones. Eventually Bones is discovered by a roving band of pirates, who give him the “black spot,” a pirate sentence of death. Although the pirates do not kill him, Bones dies of some unknown cause, which the doctor assumes is related to Bones’s alcoholism. After his death, young Hawkins finds a treasure map inside Bones’s trunk, a map that sets up the premise of the story.

Captain Flint

Captain Flint, a notorious pirate, leaves Ben Gunn on Treasure Island. He never appears in the story but is mentioned by several pirates, who both praise and curse him. Long John Silver also names his parrot Captain Flint.

Ben Gunn

Ben Gunn is discovered on Treasure Island by Jim Hawkins. Gunn has been marooned there for three years and is a bit eccentric by the time Hawkins finds him. Despite his peculiarities, Gunn has figured out how to survive on the island and is instrumental in saving Hawkins and the rest of the crew of the Hispaniola. Gunn has a store of food that he shares with them and has built a crude rowboat, which Hawkins uses to save the Hispaniola. Despite the fact that Gunn has found the buried treasure, what he desires most when rescued is a piece of cheese. In the end, Gunn is given part of the treasure once the ship returns to England, but readers are told that Gunn spends his fortune quickly.

Israel Hands

Israel Hands is one of Long John Silver’s men. During the mutiny, Hands is left on the ship. When Jim Hawkins returns to the ship and releases the anchor and climbs aboard, it is with Hands that Hawkins must deal. Hands helps Hawkins navigate the Hispaniola to a safe harbor. Once the ship is anchored, Hands tries to kill Hawkins but is thrown from the ship and drowns when the current abruptly changes. Before that fatal accident, Hands impales Hawkins with his dagger. Hawkins’s wound, however, turns out to be superficial.

Jim Hawkins

Jim Hawkins is the young boy who narrates most of this story. He is observant of events that occur around him and of the people with whom he becomes involved. His observations at times get him into trouble but more often than not also save his life and the lives of his companions. He fortunately happens to be in the right place at the right time. The knowledge he gains through his good fortune is put to good use. Hawkins is both lucky and clever.

Hawkins’s youthful curiosity leads him into the adventure of his lifetime after he gains possession of a treasure map. With a crew of less than respectable sea hands and a group of professional men at the helm, Hawkins eventually sails off to search for the buried bounty. It is through this treasure-hunt adventure that Hawkins experiences a rite of passage from adolescent to adult, as he learns to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, and all shades in between. The story is told mostly through his eyes.

Mr. Hawkins

Mr. Hawkins is Jim’s father. He is sickly and dies early in the story, leaving Jim the only man available to help his mother run the pub.

Mrs. Hawkins

Mrs. Hawkins, mother of Jim Hawkins, is present only in the first chapters of the book, in which Jim helps her run the Admiral Benbow.

Dr. Livesey

Dr. Livesey enters the story when Jim Hawkins’s father is dying. He appears again at the Admiral Benbow when Billy Bones falls ill. It is to Dr. Livesey that young Hawkins gives the treasure map once he has discovered it in Bones’s trunk. Dr. Livesey understands the importance of the map and helps to organize the ocean trip to find the buried treasure.

Livesey is honest and honor-bound. He is the mirror image of Long John Silver in many ways. While Silver pretends to be honest, sincere, and honor-bound, Livesey really is. Livesey is also a humanitarian, while Silver cares little for anyone but himself. In contrast, Livesey, even in the midst of the mutiny, treats the wounded pirates with as much care as he treats his own friends. Livesey is coolheaded and intelligent and plays out the role of a father figure or older brother for young Hawkins.

Old Man Pew

Old Man Pew is a blind pirate who comes looking for Billy Bones at the Admiral Benbow. Jim Hawkins must personally deal with Old Man Pew and is frightened by the experience. Pew is strong and threatens Hawkins physically so that Hawkins does what Pew tells him. Pew also frightens Billy Bones. Bones sees him as a bad omen. After Bones dies, Old Man Pew is trampled by horses while citizens try to keep order in their village by chasing the pirates away from the town.

Old Redruth

Old Redruth, a friend of the squire’s, is loyal to the professional crew on the Hispaniola but is the first to be killed when the pirates mutiny.

Long John Silver

Long John Silver, hired as the cook for the ship Hispaniola, is a chameleon, changing his “colors” depending on the situation. He is working in a pub when first introduced, a place he and his wife own. When Jim Hawkins encounters him, Silver pretends to be a legitimate businessman. In fact, Silver has gained all of his wealth from piracy and, despite the loss of a leg, has a reputation of being a successful pirate. He is an intelligent man and well aware of the psychology of the people around him. Silver uses this knowledge to manipulate the circumstances in which he finds himself, with an intense loyalty to no one but himself.

It is through Silver that the crew members, most of whom have histories of piracy, organize a mutiny. They plan to either kill or maroon the legitimate leaders of this expedition and claim the treasure for themselves. Silver, compared to the other pirates, is easily the most conniving. He charms everyone from the lowliest pirate to the captain of the ship. He stresses that all men must display honor and makes a grand show to prove that he is the most respectable of them all. His bright intelligence and quick wit help him turn every situation to his advantage. Given that Stevenson originally wanted the title of this book to be The Sea Cook, readers can be assured that Long John Silver, in many ways, was meant to be the main character.

Captain Smollet

Captain Smollet, the officer in charge of the Hispaniola, is hardworking and understands the power of rank, not for the power but rather for the discipline. He demonstrates his intelligence and understanding of human nature by recognizing Long John Silver’s power over the pirates on his ship. He is wounded during a battle on Treasure Island, but Dr. Livesey saves him. Smollet is patriotic and often makes grand statements about his country.

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