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Last Updated February 7, 2023.

On stormy nights, when the wind shook the four corners of the house and the surf roared along the cove and up the cliffs, I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. (Chapter 1)

That Long John Silver haunts Jim’s dreams long before the latter has met him establishes the sea cook’s monumental role in Treasure Island. Although the pirate is crippled, Jim does not see it as weakness—rather, the physical deformity contributes to Silver’s assumed monstrosity and mystique.

When Jim finally meets Silver, albeit not knowing that it was he whom Billy Bones spoke of, he finds Silver to be pleasant and genteel. However, he is soon privy to the sea cook’s dark side. At several points in the novel, Jim witnesses Silver adopt a greedy and murderous countenance, more fitting of the monster in his boyish nightmares.

So I must have lain for hours, continually beaten to and fro upon the billows, now and again wetted with flying sprays, and never ceasing to expect death at the next plunge. Gradually weariness grew upon me; a numbness, an occasional stupor, fell upon my mind even in the midst of my terrors, until sleep at last supervened and in my sea-tossed coracle I lay and dreamed of home and the old Admiral Benbow. (Chapter 23)

When Jim falls asleep in Ben Gunn’s coracle, it is one of his most vulnerable moments; he is exhausted and terrified yet left with no other choice but to carry on. Back home, at the Admiral Benbow, he had yearned for exciting adventures at sea. Now, the situation has been reversed. This is the first and only instance in which Jim pines for the comforts of his boyhood home; while he had acted with much quick-wittedness and bravado before, his strength now wavers. It is this helplessness which marks a crucial point in Jim’s development—the question of his transition from boy to man and whether he will be able to make the leap.

Fittingly, when Jim wakes, he decides to assume captaincy of the Hispaniola. He defeats Israel Hands, killing a man for the first time, and tosses O’ Brien’s corpse overboard—remarking that his experiences have now left him with no terror for the dead.

One side was blank, for it had been the last leaf; the other contained a verse or two of Revelation—these words among the rest, which struck sharply home upon my mind: “Without are dogs and murderers.” The printed side had been blackened with wood ash, which already began to come off and soil my fingers; on the blank side had been written with the same material the one word “Depposed.” (Chapter 29)

The black spot, a convention of Stevenson’s own making, is a notice of final judgment that brings with it the threat of violence. When Silver defies his men’s wishes to kill Jim, the pirates hold a forecastle council and afterward hands Silver the black spot. Having no other paper at hand, they use a page from Dick’s Bible. The verse on the other side, from the Book of Revelation, describes the nature of those standing outside the kingdom of God.

The passage itself captures perfectly the men’s dualities: while pirates and murderers, they are also still bound to the conventions of their own kind; while mutineers, they still retain certain loyalties; Dick, while a criminal, is still a praying man. Indeed, even the formality of the note is undermined by the ironic misspelling of the word “deposed.”

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!

Captain Flint’s infamous sea shanty is sung by most of the pirates in the novel; Jim first hears it from Billy Bones, who even teaches it to the other patrons of the Admiral Benbow. He hears it once more from Silver and the crew of the Hispaniola. Finally, the reformed pirate Ben Gunn, in an effort to evoke Flint’s vengeful ghost, sings it to scare away the mutineers from the treasure.

The song parallels the events of the novel, from their pursuit of the deceased Flint’s treasure trove to the unfortunate fate of the pirates. While Flint and Billy Bones meet their end with too much drink, the rest of the pirates, barring Silver, are undone by “the devil”—that is, their bottomless greed and lust for blood. The refrain “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” testifies to the pirates’ stubborn attachment to vice, as both Billy Bones and Israel Hands, even while half-dead, have no wish but to drink liquor.

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