1. Why do you think Stevenson chooses a boy to narrate this tale?
In the very first sentence of the novel, Jim tells us that he is recounting the story of Treasure Island because Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and other gentlemen have asked him to write it down. Stevenson’s choice of Jim as a narrator is noteworthy and unexpected, since the adult men have greater life experience, education, and verbal skills than this young boy has, and would seem to be able to bring more perspective to the narrative.
Nonetheless, Stevenson chooses Jim as the storyteller in order to give us a personal, subjective account of the adventure, which is just as important as the objective plot events that take place. A large part of Jim’s adventure is his development from a sheltered, protected young boy into a responsible, freethinking, charismatic young man. We would not be as emotionally invested in the treasure hunt, or feel as conflicted about the two sides—the pirate world and the civilized world—if Jim were not the narrator. The novel would not have the same tensions, passions, and suspense if Livesey narrated the tale. Jim’s coming-of-age from childhood to adulthood would likely not figure in the novel at all if it were told by another character or an external narrator. The novel’s subjective elements—such as Jim’s admission that he had to struggle to regain his composure after the fight with Israel, or his regret at the decision to go ashore with the pirates—might be lost in the hands of another narrator. Instead, with Jim narrating, we see that he is learning about himself and developing his own moral character. Without this subjective side, the novel would just be a narration of events, rather than a more complex history of a boy becoming a man, the process of forming his identity, and an exploration of what comprises a human being.
Discuss the role of Ben Gunn in the novel. Why does Stevenson include this character, and why does he describe Ben as he does?
Ben Gunn is one of the novel’s strangest characters. He does not receive much attention in the narrative, yet his inclusion in the novel is crucial. Ben Gunn saves Jim at the end, and he is the one who has first discovered the treasure—notably, without the aid of the treasure map. Ben should be a hero, but in his deranged and ragged state everyone thinks of him as pathetic, merely a skeleton of a man, despite all his heroic accomplishments. Ben has long been separated from the rules and rationality of society, and the fact that he has moved away from following social norms causes others to view him as insane. Fittingly, Ben saves Jim by spookily imitating dead pirates, as he himself is something of a ghost of a man. Ben has attained riches and fortune, but he has lost his reason and his humanity in the process. He is a cautionary example of a man who has lost everything because of his pirate lifestyle and greedy mentality. Ben’s avarice, selfishness, and desire have brought him only the status of a castaway—a literal outcast of society.
3. Why does Stevenson make such an effort to show Long John Silver’s positive traits?
Many who have heard of Long John Silver assume that he is the indisputable villain of Treasure Island and are surprised upon reading the novel that he actually has a number of positive character traits. Silver is much more than the stereotyped villain of a melodrama: he is a complex and vital character who, like any character of great depth, displays virtues as well as moral flaws. Certainly he is a thief, a cold-hearted killer, and a devious manipulator with no sense of loyalty, but to dismiss him as only these things would be too hasty.
Silver also displays admirable characteristics that inspire and influence Jim. Jim imitates Silver’s capacity for spontaneous, independent thought and action, following his own whims on several occasions and even deserting his own crew. Jim also develops Silver’s strength and agility, as he demonstrates when he pulls himself up onto the ship from his foundering boat. At times, Jim even seems fond of Silver, and wishes him well at the end of the novel. Indeed, Silver tells Jim that he reminds him of himself as a young boy, an explicit indicator of the similarity between the two characters. Treasure Island is such a rich adventure story in part because Stevenson allows its hero to resemble its ostensible villain. Many of Jim’s heroic actions are inspired, at least in part, by the villainous Silver’s spirit. Stevenson implies that the line between right and wrong, good and evil, is often quite ambiguous.