All right, this post contains spoilers for chapters 1-8 of Treasure Island. Ye be warned!
I mentioned this in the introduction post, but I’m going to mention the narration again. Unlike the plot of Dracula, which is told as it is happening by the characters, Treasure Island is narrated from the future, looking back at past events. How does Jim’s hindsight on events affect the suspense of the story? Do you think it’s suspenseful so far? Why or why not? So far I’m of the opinion that it is suspenseful, just in a different way than wondering “aHHHH WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?” Instead we wonder “HOW will this happen? How will they find the treasure, and what’s going to happen on the way?” DISCUSS.
Jim, the little tease, keeps dropping foreboding comments. For example, when he’s daydreaming about treasure and admits that “in all my fancies nothing occurred to me so strange and tragic as our actual adventures” (chapter 7): WHAT TRAGEDY IS GOING TO BEFALL THEM? Further, when he meets Silver he ruminates that “I thought I knew what a buccaneer was like” (chapter 8). We’ve seen his experiences with the pirates so far at the inn, all of them terrifying, so his narration warns us that we can’t trust what we’ve read so far. Why can’t we? What’s going to prove Jim’s experience wrong?
What do we know about the pirates so far?
- They have “tarry pigtails” (mentioned in chapter 1 and chapter 8). I’m not completely sure how RLS is using “tarry” here but my best guess is that he means tar-like, appears to be covered in tar, or resiny. So…their hair is super greasy, maybe to protect it from the sun and the sea air? If anyone has etymological insights, let me know.
- Their names are hilarious and noun-heavy: Flint, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Pew. I love their names so much. From what I’ve been learning about real-life pirates, they do seem to like nicknames and monikers. I mean, Blackbeard wouldn’t be half as terrifying if everyone called him Ed.
- So far the pirates haven’t been romanticized on the level of modern Hollywood, but there is an odd combination of idealization and criticism. For example, all of the pirates who have shown up at the inn are clearly hardened murderous criminals, but Jim and the other inn-habitants secretly love hearing Bones’ pirate stories.
- Billy Bones’ secret love of seashells gives me life (chapter 4), but I’m not sure if that’s a pirate trait or an effort to give Bones some normal human hobbies.
Meanwhile, our “good” treasure-hunters are slowly introduced. Question: how old is Jim? I honestly have no idea. I’ve seen him portrayed anywhere from 9-ish to 19-ish. He seems around 10 here, but I don’t know how old he would have to be for them to care enough to take him along. DISCUSS.
The beginning with Bones is always really horrifying to me – that this random visitor comes along and just sort of terrorizes the entire inn and neighborhood. But the book doesn’t have a good opinion of the inn-habitants aside from Jim and maybe his mom. When Dr. Livesey appears, Jim compares his neighbor to the educated doctor/magistrate:
“I followed him in, and I remember observing the contrast the neat, bright doctor, who his powder as white as snow, and his bright, black eyes and pleasant manners, made with the coltish country folk, and above all, with that filthy, heavy, bleared scarecrow of a pirate of ours” (chapter 1).
I don’t know how much of these opening chapters are class bias. Jim’s dad is too weak to kick Bones out. The townsfolk won’t help Jim and his mom with either Bones or the other pirates later (chapter 4). Even Jim’s mom is criticized for being obsessed with settling Bones debt: “how I blamed my poor mother for her honesty and her greed” (chapter 4), albeit sympathetically. Dr. Livesey appears to be the only reasonable person in the bunch. I love the part where he helps Bones after Bones has a stroke and high-key admits he would prefer Bones dead: “and I have just, very much against my own will, dragged you headforemost out of the grave” (chapter 2). Jim recognizes Dr. Livesey as somehow superior even to lawmen like Mr. Dance, as he only trusts Livesey to take the oilskin packet which ends up containing the treasure map (chapter 5).
Then again, Trelawney is a much higher social class and he’s, no offense, a total ditz. I love him, but it’s true. I like how Jim comes in unnanounced and Trelawney and Livesey are hanging out by the fire, probably plotting against illiteracy or solving crimes from their armchairs. I want to know how many times Livesey has complained about his job that makes Trelawney announce, “Livesey, you will give up this wretched practice at once” as soon as the treasure map is found (chapter 5).
So! The stage is set. We have our primary characters. We’re off to find the treasure, if the ship doesn’t spring a leak. Is anyone else questioning Trelawney’s acquisition of the ship and the crew, or is it just me?
A few miscellaneous notes:
- Re: Silver’s wife in chapter 7, I couldn’t find out what “a woman of color” means. I think it means she’s got a foul mouth and/or a sharp tongue. EDIT: I’ve been informed by reputable sources that “woman of color” did indeed mean POC at the time. So…that’s interesting. More as the story develops. Oxford English Dictionary agrees.
- Royal Georges or Georges = coins with King George’s image on them. I’m not sure if this is King George II who reigned 1727-1760, or King George III who reigned 1760-1820. It’s so hard to keep track of these English monarchs. Anyway, yeah, coinage.
- Silver is said to have served “the immortal Hawke” (chapter 7). He was kinda a big deal in the English navy.
I will be back next week with chapters 9-17!