Summary: Chapter 22

Seeing no further signs of attack by the mutineers, Captain Smollett and his men enjoy some leisure time in the stockade. Gray is startled to see Dr. Livesey go walking out into the trees, taking the map with him. Gray asks whether Livesey has gone mad, but Jim answers that Livesey is going to speak to Ben Gunn. Left inside to clean up the bloody mess of the earlier attack, Jim grows impatient, yearning to do something more heroic.

On another whim, Jim decides to go search for the boat that Ben had mentioned he had built. On the shore Jim glimpses Silver and his men talking and laughing, and hears the unearthly scream of Silver’s parrot Cap’n Flint. After a bit of a search Jim finds the small handmade boat, which is a coracle (a type of boat once sailed by the ancient Britons). Jim decides he will sail out to the Hispaniola and cut it adrift. When darkness falls, he hoists the coracle on his shoulders and heads for the water.

Summary: Chapter 23

Jim finds the coracle hard to sail, as it steers unreliably, but he eventually manages to reach the anchored ship. Grasping the hawser, or anchor rope, Jim takes out his knife and starts cutting, being careful not to let the cord snap at him when it breaks. Waiting for the wind to lessen the rope’s tension so he can finish cutting it, he sits and listens to the rude oaths and drunken nonsense coming from the pirates’ ship. One sailor is singing a morbid sea song about a ship setting out with a crew of seventy-five and returning with only one alive.

When there is a breeze, Jim is able to cut the last fibers of the rope and set the Hispaniola adrift. On a whim he clutches the trailing rope and hauls himself to window-level, peering in to see why no one has noticed the sudden motion of the ship. He discovers that the pirates are distracted, as Hands and another sailor are wrestling. Suddenly flung back into the coracle, Jim is startled to find that he has drifted near the pirates’ campfire on shore. Sure of imminent death, he commends his soul to God and falls asleep in the coracle, dreaming of home.

Summary: Chapter 24

Upon awakening, Jim discovers that he has drifted to the southwest end of Treasure Island. Paddling toward shore is useless, as he would be dashed to death on the rocks that form this edge of the island. Jim decides to try to make his way toward a friendlier shoreline to the north. After much effort he finally reaches the cove he has aimed for, his throat burning from thirst. He spots the Hispaniola drifting aimlessly and concludes that the crew either is entirely drunk or has deserted the ship.

Jim hatches a plan to try to board the wildly drifting Hispaniola, realizing that he can overtake the ship if he sits up and paddles hard. Though he runs the risk of being spotted, he thinks the idea has an air of adventure about it, so he starts paddling. Finally reaching the ship, Jim climbs on board and searches for water to quench his thirst. He hears the sound of the ship being blown into and destroying the coracle, and knows that escape from the ship is now impossible.

Analysis: Chapters 22–24

In these episodes Jim continues to demonstrate his tendency to follow mad whims and private impulses. Jim’s restlessness and discontentment when he is cleaning up the blood from the earlier slaughter are understandable, and we sympathize with his desire to do something more grandiose and heroic. Jim does not simply dream of a heroic act, however, but actually follows through, going off to search for Ben Gunn’s boat. Jim’s decision to go after the boat is a wholly private one, as he does not tell anyone what he is doing. The privacy of this deed is emphasized by the fact that Jim is the only character who appears in all of Chapter 24. In focusing so exclusively on Jim, Stevenson emphasizes the fact that Treasure Island is truly a coming-of-age story rather than a simple adventure tale. Though the story involves dozens of grown-up, worldly wise men, it is primarily driven—and depends upon—the solitary, private whims of a boy.

The reckless but fascinating character of the pirates also develops further in these chapters. Stevenson portrays the pirates as utterly unable to take care of their own lives in any responsible way. As Jim comes upon the Hispaniola, the ship is drifting madly from side to side, intermittently slowing and accelerating. The ship’s wild course mirrors the chaotic and disorderly lives of the men who have overtaken it. The pirates cannot control or master themselves, and are unable or unwilling to guide their actions according to reason. They fail to notice the drifting of their own ship because they are busy cheering on a wrestling match, another embodiment of violence. Upon seeing the Hispaniola veering, Jim surmises that the men must all be drunk, and though he is incorrect, the pirates’ rum is a clear symbol of their wayward existence. Interestingly, the pirates appear at least partly aware of their own self-destructiveness and the potentially fatal consequences of their mad lives. When they sing, their songs are about dead men’s chests and ships that lose their entire crews; in a way, they sing of their own ruin. It is almost as if the pirates are obeying a sort of innate instinct toward gradual self-destruction.

Stevenson casts the tale in a new light when Jim faces death in Chapter 23, inviting us to consider the spiritual dimension of the adventure. When Jim suddenly finds himself in close proximity to the pirates’ campfire, he lies down in his boat and “devoutly recommend[s] [his] spirit to its Maker.” Though Jim has clearly been aware of death before, this is the first time he shows any overt signs of religious awareness, and the first time he prays during the novel. When Jim awakens safely in the following chapter, it is as if his prayers have been answered. Alternatively, Stevenson may mean to imply that God helps those who help themselves. Jim reasons with himself to prevent the onset of panic, and is quick to use his wits and courage to paddle his boat up to the ship and hoist himself on board. Just as he gains self-awareness, courage, and maturity as he develops throughout the novel, Jim appears to be gain awareness of a higher spiritual realm as well.