The first-person narrator of almost the entire novel. Jim is the son of an innkeeper near Bristol, England, and is probably in his early teens. He is eager and enthusiastic to go to sea and hunt for treasure. He is a modest narrator, never boasting of the remarkable courage and heroism he consistently displays. Jim is often impulsive and impetuous, but he exhibits increasing sensitivity and wisdom.
The old seaman who resides at Jim’s parents’ inn. Billy, who used to be a member of Silver’s crew, is surly and rude. He hires Jim to be on the lookout for a one-legged man, thus involving the young Jim in the pirate life. Billy’s sea chest and treasure map set the whole adventure in motion. His gruff refusal to pay his hotel bills symbolizes the pirates’ general opposition to law, order, and civilization. His illness and his fondness for rum symbolize the weak and self-destructive aspects of the pirate lifestyle.
A pirate and enemy of Billy. Black Dog pays an unexpected visit to Billy and threatens him. Billy attacks Black Dog, who flees but remains a herald of coming violence in the novel. Black Dog’s name symbolizes both the dark and the bestial sides of piracy.
A local Bristol nobleman. Trelawney arranges the voyage to the island to find the treasure. He is associated with civic authority and social power, as well as with the comforts of civilized country life (his name suggests both “trees” and “lawn”). Trelawney’s street smarts, however, are limited, as the ease with which the pirates trick him into hiring them as his crew demonstrates.
The local doctor. Dr. Livesey is wise and practical, and Jim respects but is not inspired by him. Livesey exhibits common sense and rational thought while on the island, and his idea to send Ben to spook the pirates reveals a deep understanding of human nature. He is fair-minded, magnanimously agreeing to treat the pirates with just as much care as his own wounded men. As his name suggests, Livesey represents the steady, modest virtues of everyday life rather than fantasy, dream, or adventure.
The captain of the voyage to Treasure Island. Captain Smollett is savvy and is rightly suspicious of the crew Trelawney has hired. Smollett is a real professional, taking his job seriously and displaying significant skill as a negotiator. Like Livesey, Smollett is too competent and reliable to be an inspirational figure for Jim’s teenage mind. Smollett believes in rules and does not like Jim’s disobedience; he even tells Jim that he never wishes to sail with him again.
The cook on the voyage to Treasure Island. Silver is the secret ringleader of the pirate band. His physical and emotional strength is impressive. Silver is deceitful and disloyal, greedy and visceral, and does not care about human relations. Yet he is always kind toward Jim and genuinely fond of the boy. Silver is a powerful mixture of charisma and self-destructiveness, individualism and recklessness.
A former pirate marooned on Treasure Island. Flint’s pirate crew left Ben Gunn on the island for three years. Ben’s solitude has left him somewhat deranged, and he has the appearance of a wild man. He represents a degradation of the human spirit, yet his experience has left him morally superior to the pirates. He is the only character to be reformed, as he shifts sides from the pirates to the good men, willingly helping Jim and Livesey. Ben’s uncanny imitations of the dead pirate Flint’s voice suggest that he is a kind of a ghost of a pirate.
An old, blind beggar and pirate. Pew presents Billy with a black spot, an ultimatum to give up the sea chest’s contents to the pirate gang. Billy dies soon after Pew’s visit, and Pew then dies in a carriage accident. Pew can be seen as an angel of death, foreshadowing the many pirate deaths in the novel.
The coxswain (a sailor who steers) on the ship. Hands is a former gunner on earlier pirate voyages. He is acting as one of two guards on the ship when the other pirates are ashore, but he gets drunk, kills the other guard, and lies in a drunken stupor while the ship drifts aimlessly. Hands symbolizes the reckless behavior of all the pirates.
One of Jim’s sailor companions on the ship. Tom is killed by pirate gunfire and buried with great ceremony on the island, an event that illustrates the good men’s respect for the dead.