Long John Silver is a very complex and self-contradictory character. He is cunning and mendacious, hiding his true intentions from Squire Trelawney while posing as the ship’s genial cook. He is very disloyal, shifting sides so frequently that we cannot be sure of his true affiliations. He is greedy and has an almost animal nature, caring little about human relations, as we see in his cold-blooded murder of Tom Redruth. Nonetheless, Silver is without question the most vital and charismatic character in the novel. Though lacking a leg, he moves swiftly and powerfully across unsteady decks and spryly hoists himself over fences. His physical defect actually showcases his strength of character, revealing with every step his ability to overcome obstacles. Likewise, Silver’s mental resolve is impressive: he is the only one of the pirates not to be spooked by Ben’s imitation of the dead Flint’s voice. He remains rational in the face of his men’s collective superstitions, driving them forward to the treasure site. Silver’s “two-hundred-year-old” parrot, which screeches dead men’s words, gives the pirate an almost satanic aura. He has obvious leadership abilities, as he is able to maintain control of his ragged and surly band of mutineers to the very end of their search, through heavy losses and suspicions of treachery.
Despite Silver’s formidable and frightening appearance, he is quick to inspire trust in those who meet him. Captain Smollett and Dr. Livesey both have great confidence in Silver’s character at the outset of the voyage. His friendliness and politeness never seem fake, deceitful, or manipulative. Silver describes himself as a “gentleman of fortune,” a term that, while clearly a euphemism for “pirate,” does emphasize something genuinely gentlemanly about Silver. When Livesey requests a private chat with the hostage Jim, the other pirates protest loudly, but Silver allows it because he trusts a gentleman like Livesey. This trust on Silver’s part seems noble and real. Additionally, the affection between Silver and Jim seems sincere from the very beginning. Though Jim is a mere cabin boy, Silver speaks to him fondly; toward the end of the trip, he remarks that Jim reminds him of himself when he was young and handsome. Likewise, Jim publicly calls Silver “the best man here,” and his wish for Silver’s happiness in the last paragraphs of the novel is sincere. Overall, Silver’s behavior indicates that he is more than a mere hoodlum. There is something valuable in him for Jim’s development, as the name “Silver” suggests.