Analysis: Chapters XXVIII–XXX

In Chapter XXX, Stevenson again addresses his recurring question of whether there is something truly noble about the pirates. Livesey, who has just chided Jim for deserting the captain in a moment of distress, suddenly encourages Jim to desert Silver. This hypocrisy contradicts Livesey’s normal gentlemanly behavior and amounts to a betrayal of Silver’s trust. Jim’s refusal to run away is not a practical decision but an ethical one, as he says it would not be right to leave Silver at this moment. Yet even Jim’s decision is highly ironic, as he willingly deserts his good captain earlier and now refuses to desert his seemingly evil enemy on moral grounds. We again wonder whether Jim secretly feels more solidarity with and respect for Long John Silver than he does for Captain Smollett. Of course, Jim is not likely to abandon society and become a lawless pirate. Nonetheless, he shares a strong spiritual sympathy with Silver, which does have good consequences. At this moment, at least, Jim comes across as more of a true gentleman than Livesey, the wealthy man of high society whose ethics we normally wouldn’t question.

The pirates’ inability to take care of themselves becomes even more obvious in these chapters, though the buccaneers remain fascinating and enthralling in many ways. Only six pirates remain alive, while hardly any of Smollett’s men have been lost. The pirates’ recklessness and lack of foresight—they burn all the firewood in one night and drink too much day after day—is at least partly to blame for their heavy losses. Even more important, the pirates continue to be dysfunctional as a group or community. Silver has difficulty managing his men and is perilously close to facing a mutiny when Jim stumbles upon him. Silver’s agitated attempt to defend his own course of action suggests for the first time that he is losing his cool. When the mutineers lay out their reasons for wanting to depose Silver, Silver argues against these points out of order, suggesting his extreme anxiety. The tension within the pirates’ band suggests that the group is very close to self-destruction as a social unit.

The spiritual aspect of the novel resurfaces in a small plot detail that acquires considerable symbolic importance: the black spot the pirates deliver to Silver is written on a page torn from the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The pirates seem aware that their transgression—tearing a page of the Bible—is a seriously bad omen; later, when they use the Bible to swear an oath, they wonder whether the book maintains its holiness with a page missing. The fact that the pirates dispute the Bible at a moment of crisis suggests that even the bad men cannot escape the power of the Bible’s good word. Jim also seems affected by the verse inscribed on the scrap of paper, reading, “Without are dogs and murderers,” an allusion to the final divine verdict that the Bible says will fall on Judgment Day. Jim falls asleep thinking about Silver’s fate, as if he is close to passing judgment himself on Silver.