Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
in full Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson
born Nov. 13, 1850, Edinburgh
died Dec. 3, 1894, Vailima, Samoa
Scottish essayist, poet, and author of fiction and travel books, best
known for his novels Treasure Island (1881), Kidnapped (1886), Strange
Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and The Master of Ballantrae
(1889). Stevenson’s biography of Pierre-Jean de Béranger appeared in the
ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (see the Britannica
Classic: Pierre-Jean de Béranger).
Stevenson was the only son of Thomas Stevenson, a prosperous civil
engineer, and his wife, Margaret Isabella Balfour. His poor health made
regular schooling difficult, but he attended Edinburgh Academy and other
schools before, at 17, entering Edinburgh University, where he was
expected to prepare himself for the family profession of lighthouse
engineering. But Stevenson had no desire to be an engineer, and he
eventually agreed with his father, as a compromise, to prepare instead
for the Scottish bar.
He had shown a desire to write early in life, and once in his teens
he had deliberately set out to learn the writer’s craft by imitating a
great variety of models in prose and verse. His youthful enthusiasm for
the Covenanters (i.e., those Scotsmen who banded together to defend
their version of Presbyterianism in the 17th century) led to his writing
The Pentland Rising, his first printed work. During his years at the
university he rebelled against his parents’ religion and set himself up
as a liberal bohemian who abhorred the alleged cruelties and hypocrisies
of bourgeois respectability.
In 1873, in the midst of painful differences with his father, he
visited a married cousin in Suffolk, England, where he met Sidney
Colvin, the English scholar, who became a lifelong friend, and Fanny
Sitwell (who later married Colvin). Sitwell, an older woman of charm and
talent, drew the young man out and won his confidence. Soon Stevenson
was deeply in love, and on his return to Edinburgh he wrote her a series
of letters in which he played the part first of lover, then of
worshipper, then of son. One of the several names by which Stevenson
addressed her in these letters was “Claire,” a fact that many years
after his death was to give rise to the erroneous notion that Stevenson
had had an affair with a humbly born Edinburgh girl of that name.
Eventually the passion turned into a lasting friendship.
Later in 1873 Stevenson suffered severe respiratory illness and was
sent to the French Riviera, where Colvin later joined him. He returned
home the following spring. In July 1875 he was called to the Scottish
bar, but he never practiced. Stevenson was frequently abroad, most often
in France. Two of his journeys produced An Inland Voyage (1878) and
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). His career as a writer
developed slowly. His essay “Roads” appeared in the Portfolio in 1873,
and in 1874 “Ordered South” appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine, a review
of Lord Lytton’s Fables in Song appeared in the Fortnightly, and his
first contribution (on Victor Hugo) appeared in The Cornhill Magazine,
then edited by Leslie Stephen, a critic and biographer. It was these
early essays, carefully wrought, quizzically meditative in tone, and
unusual in sensibility, that first drew attention to Stevenson as a
Stephen brought Stevenson into contact with Edmund Gosse, the poet
and critic, who became a good friend. Later, when in Edinburgh, Stephen
introduced Stevenson to the writer W.E. Henley. The two became warm
friends and were to remain so until 1888, when a letter from Henley to
Stevenson containing a deliberately implied accusation of dishonesty
against the latter’s wife precipitated a quarrel that Henley, jealous
and embittered, perpetuated after his friend’s death in a venomous
review of a biography of Stevenson.
In 1876 Stevenson met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, an American lady
separated from her husband, and the two fell in love. Stevenson’s
parents’ horror at their son’s involvement with a married woman subsided
somewhat when she returned to California in 1878, but it revived with
greater force when Stevenson decided to join her in August 1879.
Stevenson reached California ill and penniless (the record of his
arduous journey appeared later in The Amateur Emigrant, 1895, and Across
the Plains, 1892). His adventures, which included coming very near death
and eking out a precarious living in Monterey and San Francisco,
culminated in marriage to Fanny Osbourne (who was by then divorced from
her first husband) early in 1880. About the same time a telegram from
his relenting father offered much-needed financial support, and after a
honeymoon by an abandoned silver mine (recorded in The Silverado
Squatters, 1883) the couple sailed for Scotland to achieve
reconciliation with the Thomas Stevensons.
Soon after his return, Stevenson, accompanied by his wife and his
stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, went, on medical advice (he had tuberculosis),
to Davos, Switz. The family left there in April 1881 and spent the
summer in Pitlochry and then in Braemar, Scot. There, in spite of bouts
of illness, Stevenson embarked on Treasure Island (begun as a game with
Lloyd), which started as a serial in Young Folks, under the title The
Sea-Cook, in October 1881. Stevenson finished the story in Davos, to
which he had returned in the autumn, and then started on Prince Otto
(1885), a more complex but less successful work. Treasure Island is an
adventure presented with consummate skill, with atmosphere, character,
and action superbly geared to one another. The book is at once a
gripping adventure tale and a wry comment on the ambiguity of human
In 1881 Stevenson published Virginibus Puerisque, his first
collection of essays, most of which had appeared in The Cornhill. The
winter of 1881 he spent at a chalet in Davos. In April 1882 he left
Davos; but a stay in the Scottish Highlands, while it resulted in two of
his finest short stories, “Thrawn Janet” and “The Merry Men,” produced
lung hemorrhages, and in September he went to the south of France. There
the Stevensons finally settled at a house in Hyères, where, in spite of
intermittent illness, Stevenson was happy and worked well. He revised
Prince Otto, worked on A Child’s Garden of Verses (first called Penny
Whistles), and began The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (1888), a
historical adventure tale deliberately written in anachronistic
The threat of a cholera epidemic drove the Stevensons from Hyères
back to England. They lived at Bournemouth from September 1884 until
July 1887, but his frequent bouts of dangerous illness proved
conclusively that the British climate, even in the south of England, was
not for him. The Bournemouth years were fruitful, however. There he got
to know and love the American novelist Henry James. There he revised A
Child’s Garden (first published in 1885) and wrote “Markheim,”
Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The poems in A
Child’s Garden represent with extraordinary fidelity an adult’s
recapturing of the emotions and sensations of childhood; there is
nothing quite like them in English literature. In Kidnapped the fruit of
his researches into 18th-century Scottish history and of his feeling for
Scottish landscape, history, character, and local atmosphere mutually
illuminate one another. But it was Dr. Jekyll—both moral allegory and
thriller—that established his reputation with the ordinary reader.
In August 1887, still in search of health, Stevenson set out for
America with his wife, mother, and stepson. On arriving in New York, he
found himself famous, with editors and publishers offering lucrative
contracts. He stayed for a while in the Adirondack Mountains, where he
wrote essays for Scribner’s and began The Master of Ballantrae. This
novel, another exploration of moral ambiguities, contains some of his
most impressive writing, although marred by its contrived conclusion.
Life in the South Seas
In June 1888 Stevenson, accompanied by his family, sailed from San
Francisco in the schooner yacht Casco, which he had chartered, on what
was intended to be an excursion for health and pleasure. In fact, he was
to spend the rest of his life in the South Seas. They went first to the
Marquesas Islands, then to Fakarava Atoll, then to Tahiti, then to
Honolulu, where they stayed nearly six months, leaving in June 1889 for
the Gilbert Islands, and then to Samoa, where he spent six weeks.
During his months of wandering around the South Sea islands,
Stevenson made intensive efforts to understand the local scene and the
inhabitants. As a result, his writings on the South Seas (In the South
Seas, 1896; A Footnote to History, 1892) are admirably pungent and
perceptive. He was writing first-rate journalism, deepened by the
awareness of landscape and atmosphere, such as that so notably rendered
in his description of the first landfall at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas.
In October 1890 he returned to Samoa from a voyage to Sydney and
established himself and his family in patriarchal status at Vailima, his
house in Samoa. The climate suited him; he led an industrious and active
life; and, when he died suddenly, it was of a cerebral hemorrhage, not
of the long-feared tuberculosis. His work during those years was moving
toward a new maturity. While Catriona (U.S. title, David Balfour, 1893)
marked no advance in technique or imaginative scope on Kidnapped, to
which it is a sequel, The Ebb-Tide (1894), a grim and powerful tale
written in a dispassionate style (it was a complete reworking of a first
draft by Lloyd Osbourne), showed that Stevenson had reached an important
transition in his literary career. The next phase was demonstrated
triumphantly in Weir of Hermiston (1896), the unfinished masterpiece on
which he was working on the day of his death. “The Beach of Falesá”
(first published 1892; included in Island Night’s Entertainments, 1893),
a story with a finely wrought tragic texture, as well as the first part
of The Master of Ballantrae, pointed in this direction, but neither
approaches Weir. Stevenson achieved in this work a remarkable richness
of tragic texture in a style stripped of all superfluities. The dialogue
contains some of the best Scots prose in modern literature. Fragment
though it is, Weir of Hermiston stands as a great work and Stevenson’s
The Master of Ballantrae
Robert Louis Stevenson
In common with Treasure Island (1883) and Kidnapped (1886), the
historical romances which brought Stevenson popularity, The
Master of Bailantrae is a tale of adventure. It begins with the
lost Jacobite cause at Culloden, and makes us experience the
terror of piracy, the sweltering heat of India, and America's
trackless wastes, as well as the decline of the Scottish
aristocracy. The heart of the novel, however, lies in the
conflict between James, the Master of Ballantrae, and his
brother Henry over their ancestral seat of Durrisdeer. In their
portrayal, Stevenson draws on an obsession with doubles and
doppelgangers that has its defining instance in his own
Dr.Jekylland Mr.Hyde (1886). The earlier tale's splitting of
moral impulses within the same personality is now enacted
between the two central protagonists, as the satanic James
returns to blackmail Henry, and destroy the family.
As in the tale of Jekyll and Hyde, evil is opposed to moral
weakness or vacuity, rather than active goodness. This is
personified not only in Henry's vacillations, but in the
helplessness of the narrator, Mackellar, constantly struggling
to keep up with events, and unable to act at crucial moments of
decision.The Master, on the other hand, remains in constant
control of the novel. He does this with debonair confidence and
an intense consciousness of the literary structure of his
significance. Drawing on readings of Milton, Richardson, and the
Bible, Ballantrae becomes a study in literary as well as
psychological and political mastery.
Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the
Type of work:
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Type of plot:
Time of plot:
This tale of high adventure, told simply but colorfully,
is woven around a true incident; Stevenson's characters, from all
classes, noble and ignoble, are skillfully drawn, and develop
convincingly as they pass through kidnappings, battles
at sea, murders, and other adventures.
David Balfour, who tries to claim the inheritance of his dead father. He
partially succeeds after many adventures, beginning with his kidnapping
aboard the Covenant at the behest of his wicked uncle.
Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, David's uncle, an unscrupulous man hated by
his neighbors. He holds the Balfour possessions.
Captain Hoseason, master of the Covenant, who shanghais David to prevent
his claiming his inheritance.
Alan Breck Stewart, a Jacobite rescued when the Covenant sinks his small
ship. He becomes friendly with David.
Mr. Riach, the second mate of the Covenant, David's only friend aboard.
Mr. Shuan, the first mate of the Covenant, who while drunk beats to
death the cabin boy, Ransome. David inherits Ransome's job aboard ship.
Mr. Rankeillor, the family lawyer, who reveals Ebenezer's treachery to
Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, who carries a letter to David
from his dead father.
Colin of Glenure, called The Red Fox, who hunts Alan for conspiracy
against King George. His death is blamed on Alan.
When David Balfour's father died, the only inheritance he left
his son was a letter to Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, who was his brother
and David's uncle. Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, delivered
the letter to David and told him that if things did not go well between
David and his uncle he was to return to Essendean, where his friends
would help him. David set off in high spirits. The house of Shaw was a
great one in the Lowlands of Scotland, and David was eager to take his
rightful place among the gentry. He did not know why his father had been
separated from his people.
As he approached the great house, he began to grow apprehensive.
Everyone of whom he asked the way had a curse for the name Shaws and
warned him against his uncle; but he had gone too far and was too
curious to turn back before he reached the mansion. What he found was
not a great house. One wing was unfinished, and many windows were
without glass. No friendly smoke came from the chimneys, and the closed
door was studded with heavy nails.
David found his Uncle Ebenezer even more forbidding than the house, and
he began to suspect that his uncle had cheated his father out of his
When his uncle tried to kill him, he was sure of Ebenezer's villainy.
His uncle promised to take David to Mr. Rankeillor, the family lawyer,
to get the true story of David's inheritance, and they set out for
Queen's Ferry. Before they reached the lawyer's office, David was
tricked by Ebenezer and Captain Hoseason into boarding the Covenant, and
the ship sailed away with David a prisoner, bound for slavery in the
At first, he lived in filth and starvation in the bottom of the ship.
The only person who befriended him was Mr. Riach, the second officer.
Later, however, he found many of the roughest seamen to be kind at
times. Although kind when he was drunk, Mr. Riach was mean when he was
sober, while Mr. Shuan, the first officer, was gentle except when he was
drinking. It was while he was drunk that Mr. Shuan beat to death Ransome
the cabin boy, because the boy had displeased him. After Ransome's
murder, David became the cabin boy, and for a time life on the Covenant
was a little better.
One night, the Covenant ran down a small boat and cut her in two. Only
one man was saved, Alan Breck Stewart, a Scottish Highlander and
Jacobite with a price on his head. Alan demanded that Captain Hoseason
set him ashore among his own people, and the captain agreed. When David
overheard the captain and Mr. Riach plan¬ning to seize Alan, he warned
Alan of the plot. Together, the two of them held the ship's crew at bay,
killing Mr. Shuan and three others and wounding many more, including
Captain Hoseason. Afterward, Alan and David were fast friends and
remained so during the rest of their adventures. Alan told David of his
part in the rebellion against King George and of the way he was hunted
by the king's men, particularly by Colin of Glenure, known as the Red
Fox. Alan was the king's enemy while David was loyal to the monarch, yet
out of mutual respect, they swore to help each other in time of trouble.
It was not long before they had to prove their loyalty. The ship broke
apart on a reef. David and Alan, separated at first, soon found
themselves together again, deep in the part of the Highlands controlled
by Alan's enemies. When Colin of Glenure was murdered, the blame fell on
Alan. To be caught meant they would both hang. There¬fore, they began an
attempt to escape to the Lowlands and to find Mr. Rankeillor, their only
chance for help. They hid by day and traveled by night. Often they went
for several days without food and with only a flask of rum for drink.
They were in danger not only from the king's soldiers, but also from
Alan's own people. There was always the danger that a trusted friend
would betray them for the reward offered. David, however, was to learn
the meaning of loyalty. Many of Alan's clan endan¬gered themselves to
help the hunted pair. When David was too weak to go on and wanted to
give up, Alan offered to carry him. They finally reached Queen's Ferry
and Mr. Rankeillor. At first, Mr. Rankeillor was skeptical when he heard
David's story, but it began to accord so well with what he had heard
from others that he was convinced of the boy's honesty; and he told
David the whole story of his father and his Uncle Ebenezer. They had
both loved the same woman, and David's father had won her. Because he
was a kind man and because Ebenezer had taken to his bed over the loss
of the woman, David's father had given up his inheritance as the oldest
son in favor of Ebenezer. The story helped David realize why his uncle
had tried to get rid of him. Ebenezer knew that his dealings with
David's father would not stand up in the courts, and he was afraid that
David had come for his inheritance.
With the help of Alan and Mr. Rankeillor, David was able to frighten his
uncle so much that Ebenezer offered him two-thirds of the yearly income
from the land. Because David did not want to submit his family to public
scandal in the courts and because he could better help Alan if the story
of their escape were kept quiet, he agreed to the settlement. In this
way, he was able to help Alan reach safety and pay his debt to his
So ended the adventures of David Balfour of Shaws. He had been kidnapped
and sent to sea; he had known danger and untold hardships; he had
traveled the length of his native island; but now he had come to take
his rightful place among his people.
Robert Louis Stevenson directed many of his works to young
readers in deference to nineteenth century Romanticism's idealization of
the presumed innocence of childhood and the fecundity of children's
imaginations. It was his strong personal conviction that youngsters were
an important segment of the reading public. Kidnapped was originally
published as a serial in a boys' magazine, and Stevenson first won fame
as a novelist with a children's adventure story, Treasure Island
A large part of the popular appeal of Kidnapped lies with the
historical-romantic nature of the plot. Typical of such plots, the novel
revolves around a genuine his¬torical incident, the murder of Colin
Campbell, the Red Fox of Glenure; and other historical figures appear—
King George among them. Nevertheless, nonhistorical incidents and
characters—David Balfour's trials and Alan Stewart's escapades, for
example—constitute the largest part of the novel, although the pivotal
action in the plot is tied to actual history. This intertwining of
history and fantasy has the effect of both personalizing history and
making fantasy credible to the reader.
An additional factor that enhances the verisimilitude of Kidnapped is
the narrative technique. David Balfour tells his own story in the first
person. As a consequence, the reader develops a close rapport with the
narrator and sympathizes with his plight. Most important, the
first-person narration makes the story highly plausible.
Stevenson emphasized plot over characterization; his goal was to
entertain—to transport the reader from mundane, daily existence to a
believable world of excitement and adventure that the reader might
otherwise never experience. To create this effect in Kidnapped,
Stevenson combined the extraordinary with the commonplace. On the one
hand, such extraordinary events as David's kidnapping, Alan's rescue,
and the shipwreck take place. On the other hand, such commonplaces as
family hostilities (David versus Ebenezer), drunken sailors and sober
sailors, and Scottish feuds (Alan versus the monarchist Colin) lend a
measure of realism to the unusual or extraordinary. This combination
produces an exception-ally convincing tale.
Stevenson, however, does not ignore the impact of character development.
His juxtaposition of David, the canny Lowlander, and Alan, the proud
Highlander, brings the story to its highest pitch of excitement by
synthesizing two opposing value systems into a compatible working unit.
David and Alan have contradictory points of view and antithetical
sociopolitical commitments; yet they work together and form a lasting
bond on the basis of friendship and loyalty that transcend their
differences. Here is Stevenson the novelist at his
best—forsaking dogma and eschewing ideology in favor of
humanistic values. Stevenson was a master storyteller. He wove this
tale around the great and the small, the rich and the poor, men of
virtue and scoundrels, and each character was truly drawn. A stolen
inheritance, a kidnapping, a battle at sea, several murders—these are
only a few of the adventures that befell the hero. It is easily
understood why Kidnapped is a favorite with all who read it.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson
This novel was an immediate success on its first publication in
January 1886, and has remained in print ever since. "It is
indeed a dreadful book," commented the writer John Addington
Symonds to the author in March 1886,"most dreadful because of a
certain moral callousness, a want of sympathy, a shutting out of
hope."This is a strong description of a tale that begins,
quietly enough, with an urbane conversation between the lawyer,
Mr. Utterson, and his friend, Mr. Enfield.The latter tells how,
returning home in the early hours of the morning, he witnessed a
"horrible" incident: a small girl, running across the street, is
trampled by a man who leaves her screaming on the ground."It
sounds nothing to hear,"Enfield concludes,"but it was hellish to
Such reticence is characteristic of Stevenson's retelling of
this classic gothic story of "the double," the notion of a man
pursued by himself, of a second personality inhabiting the true
self. Embedding his tale in a very comfortable, and comfortably
male, version of fin-de-siecle London—there is, as Vladimir
Nabokov notes, a "delightful winey taste about this
book"—Stevenson gradually discloses the identity of the "damned
Juggernaut," Mr. Hyde, who disappears behind the door of the
respectable, and well-liked, Dr. Jekyll. But identifying Hyde is
not the same as knowing how to read the conflict, the double
existence, unleashed by Jekyll's experiments with the "evil side
of my nature." Notably, in 1888, the psychological phenomenon
explored here was invoked to explain a new, and metropolitan,
form of sexual savagery in the tabolid sensationalism
surrounding the Ripper murders. This is an early example of the
purchase of Stevenson's story, its ongoing role in public, and
critical, reflection on the many discontents of modern cultural
THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Òyðå of work: Novella
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Tyðå of plot: Fantasy
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
First published: 1886
This classic romantic adventure and fantasy has steadily
maintained its popularity ever since it was first published in 1886.
Based upon the dual personalities of a single man representing beauty
and beast, the story reveals Stevenson's understanding of human nature
and his mastery of English prose.
Dr. Henry Jekyll, a London physician who leads a double life. He
concocts a drug to change his personality at times to conform to his
evil side. To protect himself, he then makes a will leaving his money to
the incarnation of his other personality, Edward Hyde. Finally, after
the medicine to restore his original personality has run out, he kills
himself while in the person of Hyde.
Edward Hyde, the evil side of Dr. Jekyll, a trampler of children and the
murderer of Sir Danvers Carew.
Dr. Hastie Lanyon, an intimate friend of Jekyll, who was once present at
one of the transformations and who leaves a written description of it,
to be opened after Jekyll's death.
Sir Danvers Carew, a kindly old man murdered by Hyde for the joy of
Poole, Dr. Jekyll's servant, who vainly seeks the rare drug for the
restorative needed by his master.
Mr. Utterson, Jekyll's lawyer, who holds, unopened, Lanyon's letter.
Richard Enfield, who has witnessed Hyde's cruelty and wants an
investigation to learn why Hyde is Jekyll's heir.
Mr. Richard Enfield, and his cousin, Mr. Utterson, a lawyer, were
strolling according to their usual Sunday custom when they came upon an
empty building on a familiar street. Mr. Enfield stated that some time
previously he had seen an ill-tempered man trample a small child at the
doorway of the deserted building. He and other indignant bystanders had
forced the stranger, who gave his name as Hyde, to pay over a sum of
money for the child's welfare. Enfield remembered Hyde with deep
Utterson had reason to be interested in Hyde. When he returned to his
apartment, he reread the strange will of Dr. Henry Jekyll. The will
stipulated that in the event of Dr. Jekyll's death all of his wealth
should go to a man named Edward Hyde.
Utterson sought out Hyde, the man whom Enfield had described, to
discover if he were the same person who had been named heir to Dr.
Jekyll's fortune. Suspicious of Utterson's interest, Hyde became enraged
and ran into his house. Questioned, Dr. Jekyll refused to discuss the
matter but insisted that in the event of his death the lawyer should see
to it that Mr. Hyde was not cheated out of his fortune. The lawyer
believed that Hyde was an extortioner who was getting possession of Dr.
Jekyll's money and who would eventually murder the doctor.
About a year later, Hyde was wanted for the wanton murder of a kindly
old man, Sir Danvers Carew, but he escaped before he could be arrested.
Dr. Jekyll presented the lawyer and the police with a letter signed by
Hyde, in which the murderer declared his intention of making good his
escape forever. He begged Dr. Jekyll's pardon for having ill-used his
About this time, Dr. Lanyon, who had been for years a great friend of
Dr. Jekyll, became ill and died. A letter addressed to Utterson was
found among his papers. Opening it, Utterson discovered an inner
envelope also sealed and bearing the notice that it was not to be opened
until after Dr. Jekyll's death. Utterson felt that it was somehow
associated with the evil Hyde, but he could in no way fathom the
One Sunday, Enfield and Utterson were walking again in the street where
Enfield had seen Hyde abusing the child. They now realized that the
strange deserted building was a side entrance to the house of Dr.
Jekyll, an additional wing used as a laboratory. Looking up at the
window, they saw Dr. Jekyll sitting there. He looked disconsolate. Then
his expression seemed to change, so that his face took on a grimace of
horror or pain. Suddenly, he closed the window. Utterson and Enfield
walked on, too overcome by what they had seen to talk further.
Not long afterward, Utterson was sitting by his fireside when Dr.
Jekyll's manservant, Poole, sought entrance. He related that for a week
something strange had been going on in Dr. Jekyll's laboratory. The
doctor himself had not appeared. Instead, he had ordered his meals to be
sent in and had written curious notes demanding that Poole go to all the
chemical houses in London in search of a mysterious drug. Poole was
convinced that his master had been slain and that the murderer,
masquerading as Dr. Jekyll, was still hiding in the laboratory.
Utterson and Poole returned to Dr. Jekyll's house and broke into his
laboratory with an ax. They entered and discovered that the man in the
laboratory had killed himself by draining a vial of poison just as they
broke the lock. The man was Edward Hyde.
They searched in vain for the doctor's body, certain it was somewhere
about after they discovered a note of that date addressed to Utterson.
In the note, Dr. Jekyll said he was planning to disappear, and he urged
Utterson to read the note that Dr. Lanyon had left at the time of his
death. An enclosure contained the confession of Henry Jekyll.
Utterson returned to his office to read the letters. The letter of Dr.
Lanyon described how Dr. Jekyll had sent Poole to Dr. Lanyon with a
request that Dr. Lanyon search for some drugs in Dr. Jekyll's
laboratory. Hyde had appeared to claim the drugs. Then, in Dr. Lanyon's
presence, Hyde had taken the drugs and had been transformed into Dr.
Jekyll. The shock of this transformation had caused Dr. Lanyon's death.
Dr. Jekyll's own account of the horrible affair was more detailed. He
had begun early in life to live a double life. Publicly, he had been
genteel and circumspect; privately, however, he had practiced strange
vices without restraint. Becoming obsessed with the idea that people had
two personalities, he reasoned that men were capable of having two
physical beings as well. Finally, he had compounded a mixture that
transformed his body into the physical representation of his evil self.
He became Hyde. In his disguise, he was free to haunt the lonely, narrow
corners of London and to perform the darkest acts withoTrt fear of
He tried in every way to protect Hyde. He cautioned his servants to let
him in at any hour; he took an apartment for him, and he made out his
will in Hyde's favor. His life proceeded safely enough until he awoke
one morning in the shape of Edward Hyde and realized that his evil
nature had gained the upper hand. Frightened, he determined to cast off
the nature of Hyde. He sought out better companions and tried to occupy
his mind with other things. He was not strong enough, however, to change
his true nature. He finally permitted himself to assume the shape of
Hyde again, and on that occasion Hyde, full of an overpowering lust to
do evil, murdered Sir Danvers Carew.
Dr. Jekyll renewed his effort to abandon the nature of Hyde. Walking in
the park one day, he suddenly changed into Hyde. On that occasion, he
had sought out his friend Dr. Lanyon to go to his laboratory to obtain
the drugs that would change him back to the personality of the doctor.
Dr. Lanyon had watched the transformation with horror. Thereafter the
nature of Hyde seemed to assert itself constantly. When his supply of
chemicals had been exhausted and could not be replenished, Dr. Jekyll,
as Hyde, shut himself up in his laboratory while he experimented with
one drug after another. Finally, in despair, as Utterson now realized,
he killed himself.
One of the great themes of British literature in the nineteenth century
is that of the divided self. The theme is embodied in the works of such
authors as Arthur Hugh Clough, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens,
Matthew Arnold, and Oscar Wilde. In the preface to his collected poems
(1853) Arnold writes, "The calm, the cheerfulness, the disinterested
objectivity have disappeared: the dialogue of the mind with itself has
commenced; modern problems have presented themselves. . . ." The theme
of human duality, however, is nowhere presented with more force and
originality than in Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The story has become part of Western folklore and has been popularized
throughout the world through many motion picture and television
adaptations. In its dramatization of the dark side of human nature,
Stevenson's novel anticipates Sigmund Freud's study of the primitive
forces of the mind that dwell in what he termed the unconscious and the
The central fantasy of this novel lies in Dr. Jekyll's ability, through
drinking a seemingly magical chemical potion, to separate the
spontaneous, primitive, evil side of his character from that of his
restrained, civilized, morally upright character. This fantasy resembles
that of children's folklore, in which there coexists an evil witch and a
fairy godmother. Unable to understand the ambiguity of a mother who both
threatens and comforts, the child is better able to deal with two
distinct mother figures.
Stevenson may well have been working out his own psychological problems
in this book. As a youth he fought with his father and was torn between
a family that insisted upon his adopting the life-style of the Edinburgh
bourgeoisie and his own inclinations to seek the forbidden pleasure of a
more bohemian existence. Henry Jekyll explains that his life has become
unbearable because of the tension between the repressive nature of his
middle-class character and his hidden desires for spontaneity and
pleasure. He yearns to acquire a sense of peace by resolving this
conflict through housing in separate identities these two forces
struggling to dominate his soul.
After taking his chemical potion, he shrinks in size, and his actions
resemble that of a rebellious son. He attacks Dr. Jekyll, his father
figure, by destroying his portrait. Like a loving father, Dr. Jekyll
does all that is in his power to protect Mr. Hyde from harm. Despite the
ungratefulness and hatred exhibited toward him, Dr. Jekyll pities Mr.
Hyde and suffers his outrageous behavior until their mutual deaths.
Viewed more broadly, however, the novel focuses upon the duality that
exists within one person. Stevenson believed that there were two
elements within the human soul and that all intelligent people
experienced this duality at times. It would be a mistake to interpret
the division of the soul simply into good and evil. Is not Dr. Jekyll,
after all, responsible for Mr. Hyde, a creature that he conjures up at
will? The interesting moral question arises— who is responsible for the
murder of Sir Danvers Carew? Mr. Hyde is a depraved child of nature, an
innocent, who, like an animal, seeks to fulfill himself without any of
the restraints of social and moral codes. In a modern court of law he
might be judged insane. Dr. Jekyll, on the other hand, is fully
cognizant of his moral and social responsibilities and nevertheless
continues with his dangerous experiments.
Dr. Jekyll's assertion that Mr. Hyde is "wholly evil," therefore, must
be read in the light of Jekyll's own misunderstanding of himself. The
novel makes clear that the separation of selves is finally impossible.
Dr. Jekyll may carry on his customary respectable life and Mr. Hyde may
continue to seek out new forbidden pleasures, but the fact remains that
the two figures are inextricably bound together by love, pity, and
hatred. It is, indeed, an appealing fantasy to believe that one can
release his hidden desires for sensual pleasures and bear no
responsibility for the outcome of that release. Stevenson's moral sense,
however, rnakes clear that such a fantasy cannot be sustained, thaHnoral
and social judgment finally exacts a price for such a release, and the
price that Dr. Jekyll pays is his own life.
The moral of the fable contained in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps
best summarized by Aldous Huxley, who recognized that both aspects of
self, the rational and the spontaneous, must coexist if modern man and
woman are to survive:
The only satisfactory way of existing in the modern, highly
specialized world is to live with two personalities. A Dr. Jekyll that
does the metaphysical and scientific thinking, that transacts business
in the city, adds up figures, designs machines . . . and a natural
spontaneous Mr. Hyde to do the physical, instinctive living in the
intervals of work. The two personalities should lead their unconnected
lives apart, without poaching upon one another's preserves or inquiring
too closely into one another's activities. Only by living discreetly and
inconsistently can we preserve both the man and the citizen, both the
intellectual and the spontaneous animal being, alive within us.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of popular classics of modern literature
because it touches in readers a common nerve. Like Stevenson himself,
the reader has experienced the powerful tensions between freedom and
restraint, appetite and intellect, pleasure and moral propriety. The
fantasy of dividing these opposing forces into separate personalities
has an enormous appeal and, as Huxley has pointed out, the business of
daily life requires that we coordinate the two selves within us in order
to become productive members of society.
Robert Louis Stevenson
"If this don't fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since
my day," Stevenson proclaimed on publication of his children's
classic. With its evocative atmosphere, peopled with fantastic
characters and set pieces, Treasure Island has spawned countless
imitations. Films such as Pirates of the Caribbean still
encourage the romanticism of pi racy, and Stevenson's classic
remains true to form despite various literary attempts to
dispute his role in the popular canon.
However, Stevenson's text contains few of the elements commonly
associated with it. The rip-roaring tale of pirates and parrots
is there, but perhaps some of the romanticism is due not to the
nominal hero, Jack Hawkins, who staidly adheres to law and
order, but to the turncoat ship's cook. Long John Silver. Silver
is a wonderful villain: erratic, bombastic, and deadly, and his
obvious intelligence and relationship with Hawkins are both
gripping and unpredictable. All the elements of a classic
adventure are exaggerated by buried treasure, curses, strange
meetings, storms, mutiny, and subterfuge. However, this tale of
quest, siege, and recovery has one final trick in its rather
unformed ending. Even though the villain escapes and the hero
returns rich and prosperous, there is a feeling that alt has
only just begun.
Type of work: Novel
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Type of plot: Adventure romance
Time of plot: 1740s
Locale: England and the Spanish Main
First published: 1881-1882 (serial), 1883 (book)
A favorite boys' adventure story, Treasure Island is also a kind
of "education" novel concerning Jim Hawkins' rites of passage into the
dangerous world of mature responsibilities. Stevenson's romance is noted
for its swift, clearly depicted action; its memorable character types,
especially Long John Silver; and its sustained atmosphere of menace.
Jim Hawkins, the principal narrator, a bright, courageous boy. His
father owns the Admiral Benbow Inn, where Billy Bones hides. In Bones's
sea chest, Jim finds a map of Captain Flint's buried treasure.
Dr. Livesey, who treats Jim's dying father and later the wounded
mutineers on Treasure Island.
Squire Trelawney, who finances the treasure hunt and outsmarts the
Captain Smollett, captain of the expedition's ship, the Hispaniola.
Captain Bill Bones, who steals the map and sings, "Fifteen men on a dead
man's chest" He dies of fright when the pirates bring him his death
Black Dog, who discovers Bones's hiding place and is almost killed in
their fight in the inn parlor.
Blind Pew, a deformed pirate who delivers the Black Spot death notice.
He is trampled to death by the mounted revenue officers who attack the
pirate gang searching for Bill Bones's sea chest.
Long John Silver, a one-legged ship's cook who owns a pet parrot called
Captain Flint. He gathers a crew for the Hispaniola, from pirates whom
he can control. Once he saves Jim from their fury. He manages to get
back to the West Indies with a bag of coins.
Ben Gunn, a pirate marooned by Captain Flint on Treasure Island. He
moves the treasure and thus can keep it from the pirates and turn it
over to Squire Trelawney.
Israel Hands, a pirate shot by Jim after he tries to kill Jim with a
Young Jim Hawkins always remembered the day the strange seaman, Bill
Bones, came looking for lodgings at his father's inn, the Admiral
Benbow. He came plodding up to the inn door, where he stood for a time
and looked around Black Hill Cove. Jim heard him singing snatches of an
old sea song: "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest, Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle
When he learned from Jim's father that the inn was a quiet one with
little trade, he declared it was just the berth for an old seaman. From
that time, the strange guest—a retired captain, he called himself—kept
watch on the coast and the land road by day and made himself free in the
taproom of the inn at night. There he drank and sang and swore great
oaths while he told fearsome tales of the Spanish Main. Bones was wary
of all visiting seamen, and he paid Jim Hawkins to be on the lookout for
a one-legged sailor in particular. He was so terrible in his speech and
manners that Jim's father, a sick man, never had the courage to ask for
more than the one reckoning Bill Bones had paid the day he came to the
inn. He stayed on without ever clinking another coin into the inn till
for his meals and lodging.
The one-legged sailor never came to the inn, but another seaman named
Black Dog did. The two men fought in the inn parlor, to the terror of
Jim and his mother, before Captain Bones chased his visitor up the road
and out of sight. He fell down in a fit when he came back to the inn.
Dr. Livesey came in to attend to Jim's father and cautioned Captain
Bones to contain himself and drink less.
Jim's father died soon afterward. On the day of the funeral, a deformed
blind man named Pew tapped his way up to the door of the Admiral Benbow.
The man forced Jim to lead him to the captain. Bill Bones was so
terrified when the blind man gave him the Black Spot, the pirates' death
notice, that he had a stroke and died.
Jim and his mother took the keys to his sea chest from the dead man's
pocket and opened it to find the money due them. As they were examining
the contents, they heard the tapping of the blind man's stick on the
Jim pocketed an oilskin packet, and he and his mother left hurriedly by
the back door of the inn as a gang of men broke in to search for Captain
Bones's chest. Mounted revenue officers arrived and scattered the gang.
Blind Pew was trampled to death by the charging horses.
Jim gave the packet to Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelaw-ney. The three
discovered that it contained a map locating the hidden treasure of the
bloody buccaneer, Captain Flint. Squire Trelawney was intrigued and
decided to outfit a ship in which to sail after the treasure. The doctor
threw in his lot and invited Jim to come along as cabin boy.
In Bristol, Trelawney purchased a schooner, the His-paniola, and hired
Long John Silver as the ship's cook. Silver promised to supply a crew.
Jim went to Bristol and met Silver, who had only one leg. He was alarmed
when he saw Black Dog again in the inn operated by Silver, but Silver's
smooth talk quieted Jim's suspicions.
After the Hispaniola had sailed, Captain Smollett, hired by Squire
Trelawney to command the ship, expressed his dislike of the first mate
and the crew and complained that Silver had more real authority with the
crew than he did. One night Jim, in a barrel after an apple, overheard
Silver discussing mutiny with members of the crew. Before Jim had a
chance to reveal the plot to his friends, the island was sighted.
The prospects of treasure on the island caused the disloyal members of
the crew to pay little attention to Captain Smollett's orders; even the
loyal ones were hard to manage. Silver shrewdly kept his party under
control. The captain wisely allowed part of the crew to go ashore; Jim
smuggled himself along in order to spy on Silver and the men on the
island. Ashore, Silver killed two of the crew who refused to join the
mutineers. Jim. alone, met Ben Gunn, who was with captain Flint when the
treasure was buried. Gunn told Jim that he had been marooned on the
island three years before.
While Jim was ashore, Dr. Livesey went to the island and found Captain
Flint's stockade. When he heard the scream of one of the men Silver
murdered, he returned to the Hispaniola, where it was decided that the
honest men would move to the fort within the stockade. Several dangerous
trips in an overloaded boat completed the move. During the last trip,
the mutineers aboard the ship unlim-bered the ship's gun. Squire
Trelawney shot one seaman from the boat.
In the meantime, the gang ashore saw what was afoot and made efforts to
keep Jim's friends from occupying the stockade. Squire Trelawney and his
party took their posts in the fort after the enemy had been repulsed.
The mutineers on the Hispaniola fired round shot into the stockade but
did little damage.
After leaving Ben Gunn, the marooned seaman, Jim made his way to the
stockade. The Hispaniola now flew the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones.
Carrying a flag of truce, Silver approached the stockade and offered to
parley. He was admitted by the defenders and demanded the treasure chart
in exchange for the safe return of Squire Trelawney's party to England.
Captain Smollett would concede nothing, and Silver returned to his men
in a rage. The stockade party prepared for the coming battle. A group of
the pirates attacked from two sides, swarmed over the paling, and
engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. In the close fighting, the
pirates were reduced to one man, who fled back to his gang in the
jungle. The loyal party was reduced to Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey,
Captain Smollett, and Jim.
During the lull after the battle, Jim sneaked off and borrowed Ben
Gunn's homemade boat. He rowed out to the Hispaniola under cover of
darkness and cut the schooner adrift. In trying to return to shore, he
was caught offshore by coastal currents. Daylight had come, and Jim
could see that the Hispaniola was also aimlessly adrift. When the ship
bore down upon him, he jumped to the bowsprit, Ben Gunn's little boat
was smashed. Jim found himself on board alone with pirate Israel Hands,
who had been wounded in a fight with another pirate. Jim took command
and proceeded to beach the ship. Pursued by Hands, he climbed quickly to
a crosstree just before Hands threw his knife into the mast not more
than a foot below Jim as he climbed. Jim had time to prime and reload
his pistols, and he shot the pirate after he had pinned the boy to the
mast with another knife throw.
Jim removed the knife from his shoulder, made the ship safe by removing
the sails, and returned to the stockade at night, only to find it
abandoned by his friends and now in the hands of the pirates. When
Silver's parrot, Captain Flint, drew attention to the boy's presence,
the pirates captured him. Dissatisfied with the buccaneer's methods of
gaining the treasure, Silver's men grumbled. One attempted to kill Jim,
who had bragged to them of his exploits on behalf of his friends. For
reasons of his own, Silver, however, took the boy's side and swore he
would also take the part of Squire Trelawney. Silver's disaffected mates
met Silver, gave him the Black Spot, and deposed him as their chief. The
pirate leader talked his way out of his difficulty by showing them, to
Jim's amazement and to their delight, Captain Flint's chart of Treasure
Dr. Livesey came under a flag of truce to the stockade to administer to
the wounded pirates. He learned from Jim that Silver had saved the boy's
life, and Jim heard, to his mystification, that the doctor had given
Captain Flint's chart to Silver.
Following the directions of the chart, the pirates went to find the
treasure. They approached the hiding place and heard a high voice
singing the pirate chantey, "Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum." The voice
also spoke the last words of Captain Flint. The men were terrified until
Silver recognized Ben Gunn's voice. Then the pirates found the treasure
cache opened and the treasure gone. When they uncovered only a broken
pick and some boards, they turned on Silver and Jim. At this moment,
Jim's friends, with Ben Gunn, arrived to rescue the boy.
Early in his stay on the island Ben Gunn had discovered the treasure and
carried it to his cave. After Dr. Livesey had learned all of this from
Gunn, the stockade was abandoned and the useless chart given to Silver.
Squire Trelawney's party moved to Gunn's safe and well-provisioned
The Hispaniola had been floated by a tide; consequently, the group left
Treasure Island, leaving on it three escaped buccaneers. They sailed to
a West Indies port where, with the connivance of Ben Gunn, John Silver
escaped the ship with a bag of coins. A full crew was taken on, and the
schooner voyaged back to Bristol. There the treasure was divided among
the survivors of the adventure. "Drink and the devil had done for the
Although Robert Louis Stevenson produced a large variety of writings
during his relatively short life, he is largely remembered now as the
writer of one great horror story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde (1886), and two classics of juvenile fiction, Treasure Island and
Kidnapped (1886). Such a view is undoubtedly unfair and slights many
valuable literary accomplishments, but the fact that these three works
have endured not only as citations in literary histories but as
readable, exciting, essentially contemporary books is a tribute to their
author's genius. Treasure Island remains Stevenson's supreme
achievement. Although critics may debate its "seriousness," few question
its status as the purest and most perfect of adventure stories.
According to Stevenson, the book was born out of his fascination with a
watercolor map he himself drew of an imagined treasure island.
When Jim Hawkins begins by stating that he is telling the story in
retrospect, at the request of "Squire Trelaw-ney, Dr. Livesey, and the
rest of these gentlemen," readers are assured that all the principals
survived the quest successfully. Although many exciting scenes will
ensue and the heroes will face great danger on a number of occasions,
readers know that they will overcome all such obstacles. Thus, the
suspense centers on how they escape, not on their personal survival as
such. At the same time, by denying details of either the precise time of
the adventure (sometime prior to "17—") or the exact location, Stevenson
sets readers imaginatively free to enjoy the story unencumbered by the
specifics of when or where.
By introducing the mysterious, threatening Bill Bones into the serene
atmosphere of the Admiral Benbow Inn, Stevenson immersed readers
directly into the story. The strange secret of Bones's background and
nature creates the novel's initial excitement, which is then intensified
by his apparent fear and subsequent encounters with Black Dog and Blind
Pew. In all, the sequence that begins with Bones's arrival and ends with
Pew's death serves as an overture to the adventure and sets up most of
the important elements in the story, especially Captain Flint's map,
which directs the group to Treasure Island, and the warnings to beware
of "the seafaring man with one leg," which prepares readers for the arch
villain of the tale, Long John Silver.
In the classic adventure-story pattern, an ordinary individual, Jim
Hawkins, living a normal, routine life, is suddenly thrust into an
extaordinary and dangerous situation. Although the hero is involuntarily
pressed into danger, he nevertheless can extricate himself and return
the situation to normality only through his own efforts. The adventure
story is, therefore, usually to some extent a "coming of age" novel,
whether the hero be fourteen years old or sixty-four years old. Since
Treasure Island is essentially a book for young readers, it is
appropriate that it center on the transition of its hero from boyhood to
Near the beginning of the book, the death of Jim's father frees Jim to
seek his fortune and places the res-ponsiblity upon him to find it for
the sake of his widowed mother. Without a father of his own, Jim can
look to the other male father-figures as substitutes. He finds two: Dr.
Livesey, who represents stability, maturity, and moral responsibility,
and John Silver, who suggests imagination, daring, bravado, and energy.
Between these two and, more important, through his own actions, Jim
finds his own manhood along with the treasure.
Jim's education begins with the act of searching the belongings of the
dead Bill Bones despite the proximity of Pew's pirate band. To
accomplish this feat, however, he needs his mother's support. Once the
Hispaniola sets sail, however, he is on his own. The next stage in his
growth occurs when, crouching in the apple barrel, he overhears Silver
reveal his plans to his coconspirators. Jim keeps calm, cooly informs
his friends, and with them, devises survival tactics. His initial
positive, independent action takes place when they first reach the
island and he goes off on his own, without a specific plan; but he is
sure that he can further the cause in some undetermined way. He wanders
in the woods and meets Ben Gunn, rejoins his party at the stockade, and
engages in his first combat.
Next, Jim makes a second solo trip, but this time he has a definite
course of action in mind; he plans to board the Hispaniola and cut it
loose to drift inland with the tide, thus depriving the pirates of a
refuge and an escape route. His final test in action comes on board the
boat, when he encounters the evil first mate, Israel Hands. When Hands
tries to manipulate him, Jim sees through the deception and, acting with
considerable courage and dexterity, manages to outmaneuver the
experienced pirate. Finally, faced with an enraged adversary, Jim
remains calm and, with a knife sticking in his own shoulder, still
manages to shoot the villain.
His final test of manhood is not physical, however, but moral. Returning
to the stockade, which he still believes to be occupied by his friends,
Jim is captured by the pirates. Given the opportunity a short time later
to talk privately with Dr. Livesey, Jim refuses to escape: "No . . . you
know right well you wouldn't do the thing yourself, neither you, nor
squire, nor captain, and no more will I. Silver trusted me, I passed my
word, and back I go." Therefore, Jim puts his word above his life and
consequently he signals the transition not just from boy to man but,
more important to Stevenson, from boy to gentleman.
Although Jim's development is important to the novel, the most vivid and
memorable element in the book remains the character of Long John Silver.
All critics pointed out the obvious about him—he is both bad and good,
cruel and generous, despicable and admirable. Some have tried to fuse
these elements into a single character "type," a "hero-villain," in
which the good and bad are traced back to a common source. Such an
effort is probably wrong: Silver is both good and bad, and his role in
the novel demands both kinds of actions. Rather than try to "explain"
Silver psychologically, it is probably more profitable to analyze the
ways in which Stevenson manipulates the readers' feelings toward the
In any pirate story aimed at youth, the author faces a moral and
artistic dilemma. On the one hand, pirates can hardly be presented as
moral exemplars or heroes; they must be criminals and cutthroats. On the
other hand, they are the most romantically attractive and interesting
characters to the young—or even adult—reader. Enhance their
attractiveness and the book becomes morally distorted; mute it and the
book becomes dull.
One solution for the dilemma is to mitigate their badness by introducing
an element of moral ambiguity into the characterization and behavior of
some of them without denying the evil effects of their actions and then
to separate the "good-bad" villains from the "bad-bad" ones. Stevenson
uses this technique in Treasure Island. Silver is separated from his
purely villainous cronies and set against the truly evil figures, Israel
Hands and George Merry, with the other faceless pirates remaining in the
Stevenson mitigates Silver's evil side with two simple strategies: he
presents the ruthless, cruel aspects of Silver's character early in the
novel and lets his better side reveal itself late in the book, and he
keeps the "evil" Silver at a distance and gives readers an intimate view
only of the relatively good Silver. Therefore, although readers never
forget the viciousness of Silver's early words and deeds, they recede
into the background more and more as the adventure goes on.
Readers are prepared for the bad Long John Silver by the many early
warnings to beware of the one-legged man. Then readers see him
manipulate Squire Trelawney and even Jim in their first encounters.
Therefore, readers admire his role-playing but fear the conspiratorial
evil that obviously lies behind it. Silver's treachery is evident in the
apple barrel scene, especially in his callous "vote" to kill all the
nonconspirators when given the chance. Silver reaches the peak of his
villainy in the killing of a sailor who refuses to join the mutiny,
first stunning the sailor with his crutch and then knifing him to death.
Even these two evidences of Silver's badness, however, are seen at a
distance, from inside an apple barrel and from behind a clump of trees.
When Silver moves to the center of the novel and assumes an intimate
relationship with Jim, his character is softened, and by the time Silver
and Jim become unwilling partners in survival, the pirate's image and
status have considerably changed.
The early view of Silver suggests that he is not only evil but
invincible. As he becomes less one-dimensionally evil, he also becomes
increasingly vulnerable, and vulnerability always stimulates sympathy in
a reader, regardless of the character's moral status. As the tide begins
to turn against the pirates, Silver begins to lose control not only of
the treasure-hunting expedition, but even of his own men. This erosion
of power is signaled by an increasing emphasis on his own physical
disability. The John Silver who must crawl on his hands and knees out of
the stockade, after the failure of his "embassy," is a far cry from the
Silver who can knock down an opponent with a flying crutch and then
pounce on him like an animal.
Silver's glibness and adroitness in manipulating the good men of the
Hispaniola were components of his villainy in the first parts of the
book, but when Silver is threatened by a mutiny of his own men and must
utilize those same talents to save himself and Jim, they become virtues.
Although he is obviously motivated by an instinct for self-preservation,
Silver does protect Jim from the others and conveys a feeling of
honestly liking and wanting to help the lad.
Thus, the morally ambiguous ending of the novel is the only one
artistically possible. John Silver has not been bad enough to hang, and
it is hard to imagine his vitality stifled in prison; yet if he has
edged away from the villains, he hardly qualifies as a hero. He is
neither punished nor greatly rewarded for his machinations and heroics
but left to seek another fortune elsewhere.