Literary Devices in Treasure Island Novel

Categories: Treasure Island

Treasure Island is an adventurous novel with pirates, treasure and the exploration of a mysterious island. In the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, it becomes evident that the characters are greedy for treasure and because of this, people are murdered. Symbolism is used to represents the artifacts true meaning. Additionally, foreshadowing is used to portray the dangerous events to come. Lastly, theme literary element used in this novel which makes the pirates engage in evil deeds. In the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson shows literary devices by symbolism, foreshadowing and theme.

Firstly, symbolism is my final literary device that occurs in many situations all through the novel. This is seen when the pirates are intoxicated with rum. “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum” (7) Rum reappears throughout the novel many times as a powerful symbol of the pirates’ recklessness, violence, and uncontrolled behavior. When the pirates drink rum they do not engage in social conversation like people these days, but when they satisfy their taste in rum, their drunkenness is destructive, as it reflects in the pirate song lyric about the “dead man’s chest” (7).

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Billy Bones was the first sailor to drink himself to death. He keeps drinking even though Dr. Livesey warns him it will kill him. Later in the novel, Mr. Arrow, falls overboard the Hispaniola as he is constantly drunk. When Jim climbs on board the ship, he finds that the two watchmen have lost control of the ship and that one of them has killed the other because they are intoxicated.

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When Jim finds his way onto the Hispaniola later, he is able to defeat Israel Hands because he is drunk. Rum symbolizes a pirates’ inability to control or manage themselves or other people’s property. Another example of symbolism which occurs in the novel is the treasure map which signifies adventure. “The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island, with latitude and longitude, soundings, names of hills and bays and inlets” (38). The treasure map that appears in the novel, Jim and his mother ransack Billy Bones’ sea chest retaining some fascinating and mysterious information about the treasure. Jim’s possession of the map transforms him from an ordinary boy to a sailor and later on, a hero. In addition, to symbolizing adventure, however, the map also symbolizes desire. Everyone wants the map and seem to do whatever it takes to obtain the map. In the end, Stevenson shows how ultimately useless he map is throughout the whole novel, as Ben Gunn has already dug up the treasure and transported it to his cave, which is quite ironic. The map directs Silver to an empty hole in the ground symbolizing the futility of material things. My last example of symbolism is when Jim discovers Ben Gunn’s coracle. “with some strength and dexterity, set my coracle, keel downwards, on the surface” (132). The coracle is a small boat made by Ben Gunn and Jim uses this to take over the Hispaniola. The irony here is that a small boy using a small boat overpowers a larger man in a larger ship which symbolizes Jim’s adventure. The coracle belongs to a former pirate which also symbolizes Jim’s departure of Captain Smollett’s crew. When he leaves he becomes a bit like a pirate himself. Despite Jim’s disloyalty towards his crew as he leaves, his adventurous spirit leads him eventually to save many lives and stop the pirates from escaping. The coracle thus also represents his inner pirate. theme is a literary device used widely throughout the book that leads

Secondly, foreshadowing is seen throughout the novel that is seen near the beginning of the book. The first instance where foreshadowing is evident is when Captain Smollett is feeling suspicious about his new crew. He said, “I don’t like them, sir, returned Captain Smollett. And I think I should have a choosing of my own hands,” (54). Captain Smollett is insightful, smart, and strict as he leads the Hispaniola to Treasure Island. His suspicions of the new crew aboard foreshadow the fact that there is most definitely a mutinous crew on board. He is an experienced sailor and knows what kind of people to trust. Captain Smollett does not trust the crew that was picked for him by Squire Trelawney and this suspicion foreshadows that bad events were coming soon. As seen, this bad event was the attack by the mutinous crew on treasure island which inevitably lead to death. Furthermore, foreshadowing in seen when Jim finally witnesses the one-legged man. Jim says, “I had taken a fear in my mind that he might prove to be the very one-legged sailor whom I had watched for so long at the old Benbow” (49). Billy Bones has warned Jim since the beginning of the novel to watch out for the one-legged man because he is dangerous. Jim gets to know the one-legged man, who ends up to be Long John Silver. Silver becomes friends with Jim which causes Jim to sees past his evil ways. This foreshadows the ruin and betrayal that the future events hold and to see that occur when the war breaks out on the island between the mutiny and Captain Smollett’s crew. Finally, foreshadowing reoccurs when the pirates sing their ditty which is, “fifteen men on a dead man’s chest” (7). This foreshadows Jim’s adventurous journey towards the Treasure Island, summarizing why every person aboard the Hispaniola is there, which is to find the treasure. When the song states “fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,” it is referring to the event in which fifteen of the seamen will end up dying over the treasure. As seen near the end of the novel, this event comes true. Foreshadowing gives the reader an idea of how the events in the story occur, but it can also foreshadow the theme of greed.

Lastly, the theme of greed occurs in the novel when Long John Silver friendship to obtain the treasure. This is seen when Long John Silver says, “I’ve always liked you, I have, for a lad of spirit, and the picture of my own self when I as young and handsome. I always wanted you to jine and take your share,” (Stevenson 162). Silver manipulates Jim into thinking he is a good guy and just as he wanted, they become acquaintances. This was important for Silver as he could now easily obtain the treasure with more people on his side. As such, Silver’s greed is only for the treasure and this becomes his motive as the novel progresses. Additionally, Long John Silver uses his cunning and deceptive personality to get pirates on his side so he can create a mutiny and obtain the treasure, leaving the other crew members behind. This is seen when Jim says,

“You may imagine how I felt when I heard this abominable old rogue addressing another in the very same words of flattery as he had used to myself. I think, if I had been able, that I would have killed him through the barrel” (Stevenson 64).

As seen, John Silver used the same words he used with the young seaman with Jim in order to get him on his side. This is a representation of greed as John Silver betrays the rest of the crew members and takes off with some of the treasure. The last example of greed in this novel is when Ben Gunn took all the treasure to his cave before the Hispaniola arrived. Jim states, “he had found the treasure; he had dug it up… he had carried it on his back, in many weary journeys, from the foot of the tall pine to a cave he had on the two pointed hill at the north-east angle of the island… two months before the arrival of the Hispaniola” (193).

Ben Gunn is a marooned pirate that has been on the island for about three years. He found out where the treasure was long before the Hispaniola arrived. Jim and the crew sated their greed while the pirates started to dig for treasure as they found an empty hole before them. This represents greed because the pirates went through this murderous journey to hope to get the treasure they were looking for but ended up receiving nothing. Many people died just to find this treasure, which was a disastrous event. Everyone’s motive was to find the treasure since the beginning and the theme of greediness got a lot of them killed.

In conclusion, the novel Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson shows literary devices such as symbolism, foreshadowing and theme. The symbolistic aspect of this novel was evidently shown with the pirate side of the story. Foreshadowing is shown throughout the novel that gave secret meanings behind it. The theme of greed that the characters in the story had for the treasure was mainly apart of why this all happened. Literary devices allow the reader to engage with the novel, thus making it more intriguing. As Jim Hawkins says, “Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island,” makes me wonder if he ever truly does want to go back.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Literary Devices in Treasure Island Novel. (2024, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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