The Effect of Selfishness on Long John Silver’s Motivations in Treasure Island

What defines loyalty? Loyalty to a friend, to a family, or simply to oneself? The analysis of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Long John Silver from Treasure Island is complex and interesting, yet in some ways ultimately subjective. Silver displays many charismatic and leadership-oriented traits, keeping a constant commitment to his own plans, but does that make him faithful? Can a person hold shoddy intentions, yet still be loyal? It is hard to interpret this dilemma, as we automatically associate faithfulness with positive purpose, but that is not always the case. Loyalty to a cause is a very important theme in Treasure Island when analyzing the mutineers versus the honest men, but Silver was merely loyal to himself. Long John Silver’s constant determination in his goals to obtain treasure never once falters until he ultimately achieves his goal, proving loyalty to his own mindset.

Despite Long John Silver’s suspicious intentions, his greed constantly keeps him committed to his plans. It is easy to recall how successfully Long John Silver masks his true identity for days, until Jim accidentally hears the pirates expressing their rebellious plans for mutiny. Until then, Silver had Jim, Dr. Livesey, and the Squire fooled. Jim recalls, “It was Silver’s voice, and before I had heard a dozen words, I would not have shown myself for all the world, but lay there, trembling and listening, in the extreme of fear and curiosity, for, in those dozen words, I understood that the lives of all the honest men aboard depended on me alone” (Stevenson 99). The mutineer-leader could even control a group of unlawful pirates for weeks. What is he so passionate towards that could motivate these actions? He is committed to his own selfishness. Silver will kill innocent, honest men, such as Tom Redruth, seeming to express no culpability or sorrow even when committing intensely violent and immoral crimes; thus, he shows how focused he is on his aims. This mutineer must have some essential need for this treasure, or rather, he may just have an immeasurable sense of greed, as displayed in his ability to measure his own wealth over another’s life. Long John Silver has the same plans, to obtain riches, from the start of the quest to the end. Even near to the book’s ending, when Silver is supposedly on the honest men’s side, he abandons his honor to steal a portion of the jewels, never to be seen or heard of again. Though Long John Silver’s determination is put toward accomplishing precarious plans, it is consistently present.

There are few scenarios in which relationships get in the way of Long John Silver’s ultimate plans. The pirate once said, “I like that boy, now; I never seen a better boy than that. He’s more a man than any pair of rats of you in this here house” (Stevenson 266.) This is how Silver describes Jim, a mere teenager, though more manly than any of the mutineers. This fondness appears to be genuine, though it doesn’t stop Long John Silver from his inevitable commitment. He will hurt Jim emotionally, but never physically. Though Long John Silver’s fondness for Jim seems legitimate, he never lets it get in the way of his narrow, one-way path.

Feeling such an immensely strong responsibility to win the treasure, the only thing that Long John ever puts in higher regard is his own survival. “Dooty is dooty” (Stevenson 79 and 185) is one Silver’s personal mantras, saying that whatever is your responsibility is your duty, and you must see to it under any circumstance; your job must be carried through. It does not matter what extents you must travel to in order to complete this goal, because success is adamant. The only exception to this philosophy occurs whenever Silver’s own life is at risk, yet another tribute to his utter selfishness, caring only about his life and his wealth. “So you’ve changed sides again” (Stevenson 312) are words which escape Jim Hawkins’s mouth after Silver yet again switches from the mutineers to the honest men. He does so to ensure his own safety. There is no description of Silver as gracious rather than greedy; such a characteristic would disrupt the entire plot. Long John Silver’s self-sustenance does not only drive his character’s personal motivation, but also the entire storyline. If Silver did not have such a present sense of rapacity, he would not have another motivator strong enough to push him to deceit and murder. It is quite evident that greed is an essential ingredient to Long John Silver’s success, though this isn’t the case with everything in life.

Loyalty is not only subjective, but relative. When determining loyalty, one must analyze this quality from many viewpoints (ethically, socially, and to whom). In doing so, one could consider Long John Silver a character loyal to himself. Maybe he isn’t loyal to his peers or fellow mutineers, but that is all comparative. What is it that promotes Long John Silver’s loyalty to his mindset? It is his is very own greed, the main ingredient of Silver’s ultimate success in stealing treasure. Ultimately, it is proven true that greed and a pre-determined mindset can be undeniable factors in success.

A Gentleman Chosen

One particular climax in the story “Treasure Island” occurs when Jim Hawkins unwittingly stumbles into enemy camp and is captured by Long John Silver and his pirates. This passage is of particular importance because it ultimately allows Jim to make a choice between the “gentlemen born” and the “gentlemen of fortune.”From the first moment Jim is captured, Long John Silver tries to win Jim over to the “gentlemen of fortune” and get him to side with the pirates. Silver is keenly aware of Jim’s need for acceptance, and asks him, “Hawkins, will you give me your word of honor as a young gentleman for a young gentleman you are, although poor born your word of honor not to slip your cable?” (749). This is Silver’s not-so-subtle way of telling Jim that, although he may choose honor over dishonor, he will never truly be a “gentleman born.” Silver plays on Jim’s need for acceptance and deftly lets Jim know that he will be accepted as a “gentleman of fortune.”Silver has a variety of motives for making this statement to Jim. I believe his ultimate motive is to win Jim’s loyalty because he wants Jim to join the pirates. But why does he want Jim to join the pirates?First of all, Long John Silver realizes he needs Jim on his side to help protect him from the other pirates. The other pirates are mutineers who have somewhat lost their trust in Silver. And while Silver has been able to regain the upper hand with the pirates, he knows he will never be able to turn his back on them or they are bound to rise up against him. With Jim on his side, Silver will have one more set of eyes and ears to keep tabs on the mutineers.Secondly, Silver realizes that he needs Jim to help protect him from the gallows. Jim has already given his word to Silver that he will act as a witness when they get back to England to protect Silver from the gallows. Perhaps Silver is testing Jim’s integrity to see if he will keep his word and “not slip his cable” (749). This, in turn, would indicate that Jim would keep his word as a witness for Silver.More importantly, Silver realizes that if he wins the allegiance of Jim, he will win a victory over the “gentlemen born,” Smollett and Livesey. Until this point, Jim has been loyal to the gentlemen born despite all of Silver’s flattering talk and approval. The capture of Jim by Silver and the pirates marks the first time an enemy has been caught by the opposite side. However if Jim chooses to stay on the pirates’ side by his own volition, Silver has won a moral victory over Smollett and Livesey. This would mean that Jim has rejected the good guys and embraced the bad. It would also mean the gentlemen born would have one less person to fight on their side, thereby reducing their manpower and strengthening the pirates’ chances for victory in battle.Finally, perhaps Silver has a need for acceptance as well. Up until this point, Silver has really been the most prominent father figure to Jim, as he is the only one who truly understands Jim’s need for adult approval. Silver has already told Jim, “I’ve always liked you, I have, for a lad of spirit, and the picter of my own self when I was young and handsome” (740). While this is most likely false flattery from Silver to try to win Jim over, perhaps there is an element of truth to what Silver says. It is possible that Silver does truly see himself in Jim as a young boy. We are not aware of Silver’s history; perhaps as a young boy Silver also needed adult approval for his own self-esteem, and as an adult there is still an element of that need for approval. It is also possible that Silver enjoys playing the father figure to Jim, as Silver has no son of his own. Perhaps he truly does want Jim to accept him to fulfill his own need for love from a son.Ultimately Jim does choose the moral route. He does indeed keep his word to Silver, but not because he chooses the “gentlemen of fortune.” Jim keeps his word to prove that he is indeed a gentleman, if not a “gentleman born,” and with this he attains his full moral stature.Sources:Stevenson, Robert Louis, “Treasure Island.” A Custom Edition of Classics of Children’sLiterature, Fourth Edition. Ed. John W. Griffith and Charles H. Frey. Bloomington: Prentice-Hall, 1996, 647-765.

Jim Hawkins vs. Long John Silver: The Inadvertent Intersection of Success and Villainy in Treasure Island

Any basic plot is driven by the conflict from opposing trails to intertwined goals. There can only be one winner. Treasure Island symbolizes this with the epitome of archetypes: Long John Silver the notorious villain and Jim Hawkins the hero boy. However, the argument can be made that Silver is the cause for Jim’s effectiveness as a hero. Jim would lose his appeal if there was not as sharp a repellant as Silver. The sea-cook had his own idea of success, and his motives, means, and ambitions surface as sordid throughout his character growth in the novel. Key traits bleed into our interpretation of Silver: his manipulative treachery, his selfish secrecy, and his brutal level of determination. It is all of these traits that compound in his development to make it an aware fact that he is the villain, and Jim Hawkins is the hero. Mr. Stevenson’s work is a just depiction of two alternate sides in a typical Romantic adventure: Long John Silver’s development along his path to becoming a villain demonstrates that evil is rarely circumvented on the pursuit of success throughout Treasure Island.

Long John Silver is in a definitively comprehensive state of others’ emotions and uses that ability to control others. This is evident from the start from his encounter with Squire Trelawney, where he sold his character as eloquently loyal, humble, and pitied simply by targeting the nobleman’s sympathetic ties. As Silver recruits the opinion of “one of the best possible shipmates” (Stevenson 36) from Jim, and the boy pants after him with the obedience of a pitiful dog, ready to chase after every piece of flattery that drops carelessly from Silver’s lips, it is becoming clear that Silver has a motive behind the catalyst of his relationships, and he is not innocent to the effect of the emotions of his peers. He is always in control of what others think of him, as he shapes his image in convenience for situations with his gift of manipulative charisma. Even after Jim disillusioned his personal judgment of the mutineer by witnessing Silver play his magic on another while eavesdropping through the apple barrel, and he responded with feelings of anger and rage, “I would have killed him through the barrel” (46), the two circle back around to a remarkably truant relationship as hostage and beholder. This documents Silver’s skill of always being able to stay where he wants to in his ever-shifting game of charades.

The ultimate embodiment of Silver’s powers is when he was able to overturn the black spot, the mutineer condemnation that demanded certain death. Dick, a young boy that Silver had initially coaxed into the buccaneer way of thinking, had his shifty conscience targeted when Silver made allusions to his roots that Dick had abandoned to join the rebel cause. Silver is slyly clever enough to always turn around the standings so that he is carefree and in control, safe on the high road. The others even catch on and tell him to “belay that talk” (126). With words as the main weapon by which Silver is characterized, it is a sneaky underlain notice that he is a ceaselessly thinking man. He always knows how to expect what’s next, easily adapting no matter what the odds. It is clearly showcased that Long John Silver is a genius, and because of his comprehensive abilities, Long John could and should have succeeded as a protagonist. However, selfishness steered Long John Silver’s talents and made him evil, consequently bringing Jim up in the light of good.

At the start of the voyage, Long John Silver begins to distance himself from the rest of the crew in an invisible personal hierarchy, overthrowing Smollett and channeling the loyalties of the ship’s crew to himself. Accomplishing his convenient bias, it is also noticeable that when there is danger, it is never the sea cook that is targeted, as he ensures that to either team at any moment, there is a value to him that insures his worth. For instance, Silver takes Jim as hostage under the proposal to his band that the boy is an excellent cover plan, yet sells the act to the doctor and the squire as one of memorable mercy, telling them to “make a note of [it]” (132). The man is a constant accessory to both sides, with the mere interest of self survival. This is a strong contrast from Jim’s loyalty. Jim will stick to his word no matter what the outcome, yet Silver has shady, dodgy, questionable motives tailored to himself without regards for others. This shuts him off as a reachable character for the other characters and the readers.. His crew abhors him for his ultimate abandonment, and Jim resents him for his underhand betrayal. Readers see Silver’s fading public perception when he narrowly escapes the wrath of his dimwitted pirate band, and Jim becomes emboldened as the hero as he acknowledges his disapproval for Silver’s unethical ways. Jim’s steadfast devotion to courtesy and reliability provides the romantic figure desired by homely hearts. Long John Silver let his aptitude become tainted with self-servitude, and it led to his name of evil as a villain.

Long John Silver became identified as a villain when he grew relentless and brutal inn chasing after his goal. In the developmental stages of planning his scheme for acquiring treasure, he makes it clear that he will continue with the eventual clearing of anyone that isn’t on his side. With the excuse that what’s got to be done has to be done, he proclaims, “I claim Trelawney. I’ll wring his calf’s head off his body with these hands” (48). There is no sense of conscience found at closer examination of Silver’s blood-thirsty viciousness. He adorns his past with his adventures of mutiny and daring quests, and boldly implies that he has killed many before the expedition to Skeleton Island. Throughout the novel, Jim and Silver had been on parallel races to success, but because of Long John’s narrow vision, he became strictly obsessive, and was blinded to the true terrible value of his ruthlessness. He becomes scarily willing to take harsh and definite means, insisting upon severe clearings. Evil is an insignificant label as what matters in his world tables off onto a straight platform of pining after the treasure he has coveted for so long. Filtered through a ferocious mindset, evil intent and tack seem plausible and sane to Long John Silver. To the pirate, evil has evolved to become another aspect to the logic of success. Long John Silver had the potential of triumphing in his goal. However, his plan was sabotaged by the opposite force at work, heroism.

As Silver’s basis of success was founded upon a shaky and unstable manipulative path, there was no way for him to stay close to any morals, ethics, or conscience. He eventually progressed to be a distinguishably detestable villain as success diverged into evil. This was the downfall of his intentions. The story cheered on the hero, and the readers read in earnest. Because Jim was able to come out in possession of goodwill with a fist of luck in the air, he was the hero that countered Silver’s attempts. Long John Silver’s example of how brilliance, intelligence, and ability still cannot guarantee success exemplifies that evil is a very obstructive obstacle, and to achieve success without it is truly heroic.