Last Updated on April 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 890
Smokey goes to live with Nana Philly, with whom Turtle now has a good, though largely silent, relationship. One day, the cat falls through the lid of Nana Philly’s old piano, which has been eaten by termites. When she rescues Smokey, Turtle finds an old cigar box which contains a gold coin and a map, bearing the words “This being Where Blacke Caesar putte His Treassure.”
Turtle dismisses the map as a fake, but, just to be sure, she wants Slow Poke to look at it. However, Slow Poke is away on an errand for Johnny Cakes, and no one knows when he will return. Eventually, she decides to show the map and the coin to the boys in the Diaper Gang. Beans recognizes the location of the map: it is the “sponger’s key,” the little island Slow Poke showed to Turtle. As they decide to go and explore, Turtle thinks that this is just like the plot of some Hollywood film, one in which Shirley Temple would probably be cast to play her.
The children—Turtle, Beans, Kermit, Pork Chop, and Ira—set out early the next morning, telling Aunt Minnie and the other adults that they are going fishing for conch. They take Johnny Cakes’s boat, since he is in Cuba and is unlikely to find out. When they come to the sponger’s key, they are unable to follow the map, and Turtle points out that the landscape, particularly the trees, will have changed since the map was drawn. Pork Chop, however, insists that he has a nose for treasure, and they start to explore the island.
The children spend all day digging but find nothing. Hot, dirty and tired, they decide to give up the search and are heading back to the boat when Turtle trips and falls. They all laugh, including Turtle, but she then notices that she has tripped on a large stone which has the letter “C” carved on it. This, Ira says, must stand for the pirate Black Caesar.
When they have dug up the gold, Turtle thinks that perhaps her mother was right after all—that life is like a Hollywood film with a happy ending. At first the children are quiet, unable to believe their luck. Then Ira asks what they should do now, and Beans responds that they can do anything they want, as they are rich. They start to celebrate noisily and talk of all the things they are going to buy.
They load all the gold into the bag they used to carry food to the island and head back to the boat. The boat, however, has disappeared. Beans accuses Pork Chop of failing to throw in the hook. Whatever has happened to the boat, the children are stuck on the island, at least for the night, though they are hopeful that they will be picked up by a passing sponger the next day. They retire to the tiny spongers’ shack, where their attempts to sleep are disturbed by mosquitoes. Beans and Pork Chop quarrel and then leave the shack, making it somewhat easier for Turtle, Ira, and Kermit to sleep. Turtle dreams of being reunited with her mother and Smokey in the dream house she will buy with her share of the treasure, but she wakes to find the grim reality of her situation unchanged.
The fact that the principal adventure of the story starts in chapter 13, two thirds of the way through the narrative, highlights the extent to which this story focuses on Turtle’s emotional development and her sense that she...
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has found a true home and family in Key West. As a point of comparison,Treasure Island has thirty-four chapters, and the young protagonist finds the treasure map in chapter 4. At this point of Turtle in Paradise, the adventure is fast-paced, and there are only a few paragraphs between the two pivotal moments in this section: the discovery of the gold, and the equally dramatic discovery that the boat has disappeared.
This emotional focus is intensified by the fact that the children have encountered no serious antagonists. Thus far, there are no villains in the book, adult or child. The trouble that is brewing for the children is foreshadowed here by the conflict between Beans and Pork Chop, whose names are supposed to signify their compatibility and who have never seriously argued before. Apart from each other, the only trouble the children face on the island comes from the mosquitoes, which add to their irritability and prevent them from sleeping.
There is more focus than ever on the dichotomy between fantasy and reality in this section of the narrative. Turtle is constantly comparing the events that occur to what would happen in a Hollywood movie, considering who would play her—Shirley Temple, inevitably—and even thinking briefly that her mother’s optimistic outlook may be the right one when they find the treasure. However, chapter 15 ends with a dream of perfect happiness in an idealized reunion with her mother giving way to a rude awakening “in the pitch-dark shack with Ira’s stinky feet in my face and Kermit drooling on my neck.” Turtle’s pragmatic mind will not permit fantasy and reality to remain together for long, nor will the direness of her current situation.