“Treasure Island”: meaning and analysis of the book by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Treasure Island”: meaning and analysis of the book by Robert Louis Stevenson Literature

The world literature of the nineteenth century was rich in original literary works and vivid images that left an indelible imprint on the cultural stock of all mankind. One such legendary literary landmark was the novel Treasure Island by the Scottish writer Robert Stephenson. Today this work is so well known that it is almost impossible to find a person who has not heard of it, and the names and images of the characters created by Stevenson are universally recognized and loved.

History of Creation

The writer himself said that the creation of the novel was determined by chance. In England at the time, stories of distant lands, voyages across seas and oceans, and treasure hunts were very popular. One day, at the turn of the seventies and eighties, Stevenson saw his stepson playing with a drawn map of a certain island. According to the writer, it was at that moment that a sudden inspiration came over him and the plot of the novel was born in his mind.

It is not known exactly when Stevenson began work on Treasure Island. From the eighty-first to the eighty-second year, excerpts of the novel were published in Young Folks magazine. The writer often read them out to people close to him. At first Stevenson focused primarily on children, giving his work titles such as The Sea Cock or Treasure Island: A Story for Children. In 1883 the novel was published as a complete work.

Genre and Direction

The novel Treasure Island was created by Stevenson as part of the “neo-romanticism” literary movement, of which he was an ardent supporter. As a result, the work adopts a general romantic mood, telling us about incredible adventures and exotic latitudes far from civilization. At the same time, however, the novel does not focus on a romance hero detached from the world around him, but on the most ordinary people, portrayed in an extremely authentic and naturalistic way.

The genre of the work “Treasure Island” can be defined as an adventure novel. The narrative covers a long period of time and includes a large number of characters. The plot is based on a long adventure that has a huge impact on the characters, who, overcoming the many dangers and trials, grow over themselves.

What is the book Treasure Island about?

The plot of the novel Treasure Island begins in mid-eighteenth century Britain. Jim Hawkins and his mother keep an inn, the Admiral Benbow, in southwest England. One day a new lodger arrives, a veteran sailor named Billy Bones, who promises to pay four pence a day to Jim if he will watch to see if a one-legged sailor appears nearby. The one-legged man never arrives, but Bones is visited by a man who calls himself Black Dog. A fight breaks out between Billy and the Black Dog, and the mysterious visitor escapes, but Bones himself is in bed. The innkeeper confesses to Jim that he once served as navigator for the legendary pirate Flint.

A few days later, another acquaintance of Bones, Blind Pugh, visits the tavern and hands the former navigator a black marker, which means that pirates will soon come for him. Billy Bones’ health fails and he dies. Jim and his mother leave the inn, taking the money Bones owed them, as well as a certain package. A short time later the place is raided by a bunch of bandits, the Hawkins family barely escaping in time. Armed soldiers arriving from the nearest customs office drive the bandits away and accidentally trample Blind Pugh’s horses.

Fate brings the protagonist together with the wealthy aristocrat John Trelawney and Dr. David Livesey. In a package from Bones’ trunk, the trio discovers a map of the island where Captain Flint’s treasure is hidden. Trelawney and Livesey decide on an adventure – to hire a ship, sail to the island and take the treasure for themselves, and take young Hawkins with them as a cabin boy.

Some time later, the ship Espagnola and the crew hired by Trelawney are ready to set sail in the port of Bristol. The whole town already knows the purpose of the expedition. In Bristol, Jim meets the owner of the Spyglass Tavern, one John Silver, who advised Trelawney on crew selection and was himself hired on the Española as a ship’s cook. At Silver’s tavern, Jim accidentally runs into Black Dog, who rushes into hiding. An encounter takes place with the ship’s hired captain, Alexander Smollett, who does not trust his own crew, as Trelawney and Livesey explicitly state.

Nevertheless, the expedition begins. A few months of measured sea life go by. The sought-after island already appears on the horizon. At that moment, Jim, climbing into a barrel of apples, becomes a casual witness to a conversation between Silver and the other sailors. It turns out that the whole crew of “Española” consists of pirates, and the one-legged cook was in fact Captain Flint’s quartermaster. The bandits intend to wait until Livesey and Trelawney find the treasure and then kill their employers and the captain and take the treasure of the legendary pirate for themselves.

Once the ship reaches shore, Hawkins, having warned Livesey, Smollett, and Trelawney, goes ashore on plausible pretext and escapes into the interior of the island, where he meets another pirate named Ben Gunn, who was abandoned on the island three years ago by his comrades. The former pirate becomes an ally of Jim and his companions.

At the same time, on the ship itself, Dr. Livesey, Captain Smolett, Trelawney with three of his servants and an honest sailor Abe Gray, taking Flint’s map with them, escape from the ship. On the island, they find a log house surrounded by a palisade and take up defense. At this point, Jim joins them again.

For several days, the pirates attack the positions of the heroes, but they fight back not without loss, and Ben Gunn comes to their aid, killing several bandits in a dream. Jim himself decides on a desperate act, under the cover of night he bypasses the camp of Silver’s people and on the boat that Ben Gunn told him about, gets to Espanyola to take the ship to a safe harbor where the pirates will not get to him. At this point, Jim kills a man for the first time in his life. Hawkins’ plan is successful, however, returning back to the log house, he finds that the pirates have already occupied it. The pirates are about to kill Jim, but John Silver prevents them from doing so. As it turned out, Silver made a deal with Dr. Livesey, Jim’s friends freely left the log house in exchange for a map. In the morning, the one-legged pirate meets with the doctor, receives a map from him, and for saving Hawkins takes a promise from Livesey to save him from the gallows.

The whole gang of Silver, together with Jim, goes in search of a treasure, but, having reached the place indicated on the map, they find only an empty hole there. The finally demoralized pirates are ready to kill both Jim and Silver, but at this moment Livesey, Ben Gunn and Abe Gray disperse them with several shots. It turns out that Ben Gunn has long since found Flint’s treasure and hid it in his cave.

The heroes, along with Ben Gunn and the captive Silver, leave the island. However, off the coast of America, a one-legged pirate secretly escapes, taking a small part of the treasure. Returning to England, the heroes return to their normal lives, the Hawkins family thrives, but Jim still sometimes wakes up at night in a cold sweat, remembering the horrors that he experienced.

Main characters and their characteristics

The wise Litrekon presents a table listing the characteristics of the main characters of the novel Treasure Island.

Jim Hawkins English youth. Courageous, brave and smart, but too self-confident. He goes from a simple errand boy in a tavern to a real hero, ready to risk his life for the sake of his comrades.
John Silver a fifty-year-old one-legged pirate with a parrot on his shoulder. Calculating and cruel leader. With his mind and prudence, he stands out against the background of ignorant and narrow-minded pirates. Despite the lack of one leg, he is a formidable fighter. He keeps his cool even in the most desperate situation, due to which he avoids his overthrow several times, and in the end manages to get away with it, even having received some wealth.
Alexander Smolett the hired captain of Espanyola is a dry and strict person. A cold-blooded leader and a brave fighter.
David Livesey English doctor and former military man. A reasonable and honest person, ready to show nobility even in relation to the scoundrel Silver. He became the second person after Smolett, and after the captain was wounded, he took over all the leadership.
John Trelawney an educated and well-groomed aristocrat, not distinguished, however, by great intelligence. It was his unreasonable personnel policy that caused all the troubles of the heroes. However, at the time of difficulties, he showed himself to be a reliable and brave person.


The theme of the novel “Treasure Island” will interest every adventurer:

    1. Adventure – the path that the heroes of Treasure Island have to go through is not at all like a carefree romantic adventure. A real threat to life, deprivation, battles, tests of the body and spirit – only after overcoming all these hardships, the heroes receive a well-deserved reward.
    2. The life and customs of pirates – the writer created a very colorful image of pirates, devoid of any romance. Sea robbers are for the most part represented by rude, ignorant and immoral savages who are subject to all possible vices. Against their background, the smart and calm Silver stands out, who, however, turns out to be no better than his minions.
    3. Friendship – experiencing difficulties, the heroes of the novel gradually become true friends, bound by a common struggle for survival. It is this kind of partnership, confirmed not by words, but by real deeds, according to the writer, that is really valuable.
    4. Loyalty – Stevenson shows the difference between honest people who risk their lives for a common cause and stand together against danger, and vile disunited pirates, who are held together only by greed, which ultimately turns into a complete collapse of their plans.


The problems of the novel “Treasure Island” will become a moralizing reading for treasure hunters:

  1. Greed – Stevenson shows what crimes a person is ready to go for money. Deception, murder, intimidation, kidnapping – the pirates in the novel are ready to go to the meanest deeds to get what they want. On the example of Silver’s gang, we can see that a team based solely on the thirst for profit is absolutely unviable and doomed to collapse and death.
  2. Cruelty – the adventure shown in the novel is filled with a lot of really scary and dark moments. Serious wounds, murders, conspiracies and betrayals. Stevenson’s novel is as close to reality as possible and is not afraid to show us the most unsightly aspects of human life.
  3. Drunkenness – Alcohol plays an important role in the novel. It is alcohol abuse that leads to the death of Billy Bones. All pirates, without exception, are subject to this harmful addiction, which becomes one of the factors of their defeat. For example, Jim was able to take the Espanyola away due to the fact that the day before the pirates staged a drunken fight on the ship.
  4. Ignorance – Stevenson’s pirates are mostly uneducated and stupid. Even the cunning and prudent Silver is not very enlightened. So all pirates know how to follow commands and control the ship, but at the same time they cannot navigate the sea, which makes them dependent on the educated captain Smolett.

main idea

The novel “Treasure Island” fully demonstrates to us what neorealism is. What begins as an intriguing adventure in exotic lands turns into a real epic, where ordinary people make tremendous efforts to survive. The main idea of ​​the novel “Treasure Island” is a call for honesty, courage and upbringing of fortitude. It is these qualities that allow the heroes to go through all the obstacles, find the treasure and not lose their humanity.

Stevenson created a rather naturalistic picture of the life and customs of England in the mid-eighteenth century and showed the growth and development of the protagonist under the influence of an unfavorable environment. Even in an unequal and undeveloped society, highly moral and courageous people can succeed. This is another meaning of the novel “Treasure Island”.

What does it teach?

This novel teaches us that despite all the hardships and difficulties, a noble person, using his mind, can overcome them. Talks about the importance of teamwork. He shows us that in any situation we need to remain reasonable and remember the nobility.

The author of Treasure Island denounces the drunkenness, greed and cruelty of pirates. The incompetence, idleness, and frivolity that Trelawney has demonstrated lead the crew to defeat. The writer says that the size of a person is determined not by origin, but by his personal merits.


“Treasure Island” made a splash in its homeland and triumphantly walked around the globe. Vivid images, bold plot moves, naturalism – all this favorably distinguished Stevenson from other writers.

The image of the one-legged John Silver has become one of the most recognizable and popular in all of Western culture. The book has been filmed many times. Even to this day, Treasure Island attracts the attention of readers who find more and more new meanings and messages in it.

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