Book Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island is an exciting adventure story set on the high seas. Unlike other adventure novels that have multiple layers of meaning, such as Gulliver’s Travels or Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island is a straightforward tale of pirates, hidden treasure, and thrilling exploits. The main purpose of the story is to entertain rather than educate.

The characters in the novel represent a wide range of human emotions and traits, such as Jim’s honesty, Pew’s evil nature, Israel Hands’ deceitfulness, and Long John Silver’s greed. However, these emotions are used to identify the characters as either good or bad, rather than exploring their psychology in-depth.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this Treasure Island book review, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Plot Summary

Young Jim Hawkins discovers a pirate’s map and sets off on a dangerous quest for buried treasure.

Part 1: The Old Buccaneer, Chapters 1-6

The narrator, a youth named Jim Hawkins, has been urged by some acquaintances to write about the chilling adventures he had while battling pirates and searching for buried gold on Treasure Island many years ago. 

He agrees to tell everything except the exact location of the island, since “there is still treasure not yet lifted.” Jim, writing in the 1700s, thinks back to the time when his parents ran the Admiral Benbow Inn, a quiet establishment located on a secluded cove of the English seashore, near Bristol. 

One day, an old pirate, Billy Bones, arrives at the inn in search of a temporary residence. He is a tall, strong, heavy-set man with a saber cut across one cheek, a pigtail falling over his shoulders, and fingernails that are black and broken. Dressed in a dirty coat, he carries with him a sea chest and tells Jim to call him “captain.” 

Bones, relieved to hear Mr. Hawkins say that few people ever visit the inn, gives Hawkins some gold coins and he announces he will stay. Jim and the inn’s guests soon realize that Bones wants to be left alone. A silent man, he spends his days near the cove or up on the cliffs, taking long walks with his brass telescope in hand. 

He sits by the fire at night, drinking rum and ignoring people who speak to him. Wary of strangers, he pays Jim a monthly sum to watch for “a seafaring man with one leg” and to notify him immediately if such a man should appear. 

On those evenings when Bones has had to much to drink, he tells frightening stories of hangings, walking the plank, and storms at sea, and intimidates the guests into singing the chorus of “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” The only person bold enough to cross him is Dr. Livesey, the physician of Jim’s ill father and also a magistrate. Livesey makes it clear that he will “hunt down and rout out” Bones if he causes any trouble. 

One cold January morning, another stranger arrives at the inn—a pale man missing two fingers on his left hand. He orders rum, and decides to wait until “Bill” returns. When Bones enters, he turns pale and shouts “Black Dog!” 

The two men drink rum for a while, then Bones suddenly begins swearing loudly and the two men draw their swords. Bones wounds Black Dog in the shoulder and runs outside, chasing after him. He swings his sword at Black Dog, but instead hits the Admiral Benbow sign as Black Dog quickly disappears. 

Back inside, Bones begs for rum. While Jim goes to get it, he hears a loud thud. Rushing to the parlor, he finds Bones lying on the floor. Mrs. Hawkins runs downstairs to help just as Dr. Livesey arrives at the inn to see Jim’s father. The doctor assesses Bones and announces that he has had a stroke, brought on by alcohol. 

After Bones regains consciousness, Livesey helps him to bed. The next day, Bones warns Jim that more strangers like Black Dog may show up and that they will “pass the black spot” on him if he stays in bed a week, as the doctor has ordered. (The black spot is the pirates’ deadly curse that warns of grave danger or impending death.) 

Bones says that if he should die, Jim must find Dr. Livesey immediately and round up as many people as possible to face the men who will flock to the Admiral Benbow. The strangers will be looking for Bones’s sea chest, and, like Bones, they will all be former crew members of Captain Flint’s ship, the Walrus. 

Bones had been Flint’s first mate, and on Flint’s deathbed he told Bones the location of a buried treasure. Bones is the only person who knows its whereabouts, and he implies that the map indicating its location lies hidden inside his sea chest.

Jim’s father dies that evening. The day after the funeral, Jim sees a hunched- over blind man approaching the inn, tapping his way along the road with a stick. Jim takes the man’s hand to offer him assistance, but the man pulls him close and threatens to break his arm unless Jim takes him to Bones. 

Realizing that he has no choice, Jim takes the man—named Pew—to see Bones. The “horrible, soft-spoken” Pew passes a paper to Bones and leaves immediately. When Bones sees that the paper has a black spot on it, he springs to his feet and falls over, dead of apoplexy. In a panic, Jim quickly explains to his mother what Bones had told him and they hurry to the village for help. 

But everyone there has heard of the bloodthirsty Captain Flint, and even though he is dead, they are afraid to get involved. So Jim and his mother rush back to the inn and bolt the door.

The paper with the black spot says “You have ‘till ten tonight,” so it seems that there is still time for Jim to open Bones’s trunk before Captain Flint’s crew arrive. He opens the sea chest and finds a neatly pressed suit of clothes along with trinkets and cannisters, a sack of coins, and an oilskin packet that contains papers. 

As Jim’s mother takes out coins equal to what Bones owed her, Jim hears the tap- tap of the blind man’s cane. He and his mother grab the money and the oilskin packet, then run from the inn and hide under a little bridge nearby. Several men, led by Pew, ransack the inn, looking for something other than money. 

A quarrel breaks out, and in the midst of it, galloping horses are heard. The thieves run off, leaving Pew behind. Confused, he runs straight into the oncoming horses and is trampled to death. By coincidence, the horsemen turn out to be revenue officers in pursuit of a criminal. 

Jim tells them he thinks the intruders were looking for the oilskin packet, and announces that he has important papers in his pocket that should be taken to Dr. Livesey for safekeeping. One of the officers, Supervisor Dance, escorts him to the home of Squire John Trelawney, whom Dr. Livesey is visiting this evening. 

Dance explains to the two men what has happened, and the latter congratulate Jim, offering to let him stay overnight. They have heard of Captain Flint and are excited that the packet may contain information about his buried treasure.

When they look inside and find a map detailing the treasure’s location, the squire and the doctor make plans to outfit a ship to search for the gold, taking Jim along as their cabin boy.

Part 2: The Sea Cook, Chapters 7–12 

Jim stays at the squire’s home (“the Hall”) while the latter goes to Bristol to purchase a ship for the treasure hunt. Livesey knows that it is crucial to keep the treasure hunt a secret and warns Trelawney not to talk to people about it in Bristol. 

But Trelawney is unable to keep a secret, and before long everyone in Bristol is excited about the voyage. Several weeks later, a letter arrives from the squire, announcing that he has bought a ship, the Hispaniola, and that he has hired as his sea cook the one-legged Long John Silver, who has helped him round up a crew.

Since they are to sail soon, Jim returns to the inn to say good-bye to his mother, and the next day he and Tom Redruth, Squire Trelawney’s grumpy old gamekeeper, set off for Bristol. 

Dr. Livesey reaches Bristol the night before Jim, so when Jim arrives, the crew is complete. After breakfast, Jim goes to the Spy-glass Tavern, owned by Long John Silver. Bones had warned Jim of a dangerous one-legged man, and the squire’s description of the sea cook causes Jim to worry that Silver might be that man. 

When he sees the “clean and pleasant-tempered” Silver, Jim feels reassured. But he begins to worry again when he sees Black Dog in the same tavern, drinking with Tom Morgan, a gray-haired old sailor. Alexander Smollett, a quiet, courageous man whom Trelawney has hired as captain of the Hispaniola, tells Trelawney and Livesey that he is uneasy about the voyage. 

He does not like the crew—a group of “the toughest old salts imaginable”—and is especially alarmed that the crew knew before he did that they were going on a treasure hunt. Moreover, Smollett does not like the first mate, Mr. Arrow, who, he argues, is too friendly with the crew to be a good officer. Such a weakness can lead to mutiny. 

The quick-tempered Trelawney is angered by him, but Livesey, believing Smollett to be honest and knowing that Trelawney has probably “blabbed” too much to the crew, calms the squire down. The next morning, they set sail for Treasure Island. Smollett and Trelawney continue to be at odds, but Silver seems to get along well with the crew. 

He acts fatherly toward Jim and introduces him to his parrot, Cap’n Flint. The crew, equipped with plenty of food and rum, seem happy.

But Mr. Arrow proves to be a drunkard and is thrown overboard, never to be seen again. One night, as the ship approaches its destination near the South American coast, Jim climbs into the apple barrel to get an apple. Since he is tired, and since the barrel is almost empty, he falls asleep. 

When he awakes, he overhears a conversation between Silver and two other crew members, the wily old coxswain Israel Hands and the seaman Dick Johnson. They plan to take over the ship after the treasure has been loaded, and to kill Jim, Trelawney, Livesey, and the honest crew members; they will then claim the treasure as their own. 

Jim also learns that many of the crew had been members of Captain Flint’s crew, along with Pew, Black Dog, and Billy Bones. Before Jim can escape from the barrel, he hears someone shout, “Land-ho!”

Treasure Island is sighted and everyone scrambles on deck for the landing. Silver explains that Skeleton Island, as he calls it, was once a stopping-off place for pirates, and that the enormous rock, Spy-glass Hill, was used as a lookout spot. 

At the first opportunity, Jim tells the squire, the doctor, and Smollett what he has overheard. Livesey and Trelawney are horrified that Silver, whom they trusted, is plotting against them, but they decide to pretend that they know nothing of the plot. Of the 26 men on board, only 7 can be relied on—and one of these, Jim, is merely “a boy.”

Part 3: My Shore Adventure, Chapters 13-15

The next morning, Jim gets a good look at the island. He finds it gray and depressing, with its pounding surf and foul odor. 

After anchoring, Smollett issues a shore leave, with Silver and 12 crew members going ashore, leaving only 6 behind. Jim stows away quietly on one of the boats, knowing that Silver would prefer to be alone on the island with his mutinous men, Upon landing, he quickly runs off, but hears Silver shouting his name several hundred yards behind. 

Jim explores the island for a while, then hears low voices; it is Silver trying to convince one of the loyal hands, Tom, to join the pirates. As they talk, they hear the screams of Alan, another loyal hand, who is being killed for refusing to join the mutiny.

Tom walks away from Silver, but Silver throws his crutch at him and stabs him to death, then blows a whistle to call his comrades. Jim, terrified, runs away. 

While running, Jim is followed by a “creature” who finally falls to his knees in front of him. It is Ben Gunn, who has been marooned on the island for three years and who tells Jim that he was on the voyage with Billy Bones and Long John Silver when Captain Flint buried the treasure. Flint had taken six crewmen with him to bury the gold, then killed them. 

Three years later, Gunn was on another ship that was passing by Skeleton Island; he told the crew about Flint’s treasure, and since the crew were eager to find the treasure, the captain landed the ship. But after 12 days they had found nothing, so the frustrated crew marooned Gunn and told him to look for the gold himself. 

Gunn asks Jim to relay his story to the squire; all he wants is some cheese, passage home, and 1,000 pounds from the sale of the gold. They are interrupted by the sound of cannon fire, and as Jim runs toward the water he sees the British Union Jack flying above a stockade that Flint had built. (A stockade is a defensive barrier consisting of strong posts fixed upright in the ground.)

Part 4: The Stockade, Chapters 16-21

At this point, Dr. Livesey picks up the narrative to describe what he was doing while Jim was on the island. Trelawney, Smollett, and Livesey had been discussing their situation when Hunter, one of the crewmen, reported that Jim Hawkins had gone ashore. 

Fearing for Jim’s safety, Hunter and Livesey went ashore after him. There, they discovered a stockade, built of logs on a cleared patch of land. Not only would Livesey and the honest crew members be safe there, but there was fresh spring water, too. 

They returned to the Hispaniola and, along with the squire and another crewman, Joyce, they loaded food and ammunition onto a small jolly- boat, and took several shiploads of provisions to the stockade. On their final trip, they picked up Smollett, Redruth, and one of the honest crewmen, Abraham Gray. 

But when they looked back, they saw Israel Hands and Silver’s other men preparing to shoot the ship’s cannon at them from the Hispaniola, where the pirates’ Jolly Roger flag, with its skull and crossbones, was flying. Trelawney fired and killed one of the mutineers, but when he tried to fire again, the overloaded jolly-boat sank. 

They waded ashore and reached the stockade at the same time as Silver’s men. Hunter and Joyce repelled six of Silver’s men and killed one, but Redruth also was killed. Using a fir tree as a flagpole, Smollett hoisted the Union Jack into the air just as cannonballs began to fly overhead. The men, however, were safe, even though the cannon firing would continue all afternoon. 

The biggest surprise of the evening came when Jim Hawkins climbed over the wall. Jim takes over the narration again, stating that he and Ben Gunn had been overjoyed to see the Union Jack. Ben has not come with Jim to the stockade, but has told him to return if the squire agrees to help him. 

After supper, Jim falls asleep to the sound of pirates singing. He awakens the next morning when Silver, with a white flag, cries, “Flag of truce!” Silver is angry because someone killed one of the men aboard the Hispaniola the night before, when the sailors were drunk. He thinks it was Smollett, but Jim suspects it was Ben. 

Silver demands the treasure map and says that in return Smollett’s men can come aboard the Hispaniola after the treasure is loaded and receive safe passage home. He also proposes that the treasure be divided among all the men. 

Smollett refuses and tells Silver that he and his fellow mutineers can either be arrested and stand trial in England, or be sunk to the bottom of the sea. Silver mutters an oath and stalks away. The captain orders his men to get back to their watch positions, and they are soon attacked by Silver’s men. When the smoke clears, the mutineers have either run away or been killed. But Smollett is wounded, Joyce is dead, and Hunter dies later that evening.

Part 5: My Sea Adventure, Chapters 22-27

Jim feels hot and restless, so he decides to look for the small boat that Ben Gunn had made for himself. He locates it at nightfall and hastily paddles it toward the Hispaniola, which is still flying the Jolly Roger. 

He then cuts the ropes anchoring the Hispaniola, and as the ship slowly turns, he grabs one of the cords and pulls himself up so he can look onto the deck. Seeing that the crew are drunk, he drops back into the little boat and drifts out toward sea. 

As the boat drifts, Jim falls asleep. When he wakes up, he is at the southwest end of the island and decides to paddle back toward shore. But there are sea lions on the shore, so he lies back in the boat and drifts with the current. 

Before long he sees the Hispaniola, but notices that it seems to be sailing on its own. Intrigued, he moves close to it and pulls himself up onto the ship; as he does so, the ship hits and smashes his small boat, leaving him stranded on board. The ship seems deserted, but Jim soon sees the bodies of Israel Hands and another crewman lying in pools of blood. 

The crewman is dead but Hands is still alive and moans for brandy, which Jim brings him. When asked why he is on the ship, Jim replies that he has taken over the ship and is now the captain; he then pulls down the Jolly Roger. Hands says that if Jim will get him some food and bind up his wounds, he will teach Jim to sail. 

Jim agrees, and soon they are sailing toward the North Inlet of the island. Hands then asks for some wine and Jim suspects that Hands simply wants him to leave for a few minutes; so he climbs up the ladder, where he can keep an eye on Hands. He sees Hands take a knife from a coil of rope and hide it in his jacket. 

As Jim navigates the Hispaniola toward shore, he turns around just in time to see Hands coming at him with the knife. He dodges Hands and swings the ship’s tiller so that it strikes Hands in the chest. The ship suddenly shifts direction and Jim ends up with his pistol pointed at Hands. Hands claims to be defeated, but then throws his knife and wounds Jim in the shoulder. 

Jim shoots his pistol and Hands tumbles into the water, dead. Shuddering, Jim frees himself from the mast and, anchoring the ship in the North Inlet, does not get back to the stockade until after dark. Knowing that the captain does not like to make big fires, he is alarmed to see that a large fire had been made there earlier that evening. 

He crawls into the stockade and accidentally strikes the leg of a sleeping man; he then hears “Pieces of eight!” He has awakened Cap’n Flint, Long John Silver’s parrot, and soon the others are awake.

Part 6: Captain Silver, Chapters 28-34

When a torch is lit, Jim is horrified to see that the stockade is occupied by Long John Silver and six other pirates. He fears that his friends have been killed, but realizes that they are still alive when Silver tells him that Dr. Livesey was angry with Jim for running off. 

Silver relates that Livesey had come by with a white truce flag, informing the pirates that the Hispaniola had disappeared while the pirates were drinking rum in the stockade. When the pirates looked out, they were shocked to see that the ship was gone. 

Before leaving, Livesey had mysteriously given Silver the map disclosing the treasure’s location. Jim, who believes only part of what Silver has told him, cannot resist bragging to Silver that he is the cause of Silver’s ruin. He explains that he overheard the conversation when he was in the apple barrel and that it was he who cut the Hispaniola’s anchor ropes. 

Morgan, the same man Jim had seen at the Spyglass in Bristol, flashes a knife at Jim, but Silver declares that no one should hurt Jim. While the others go outside to confer, Jim and Silver make a deal: Silver will save Jim from the other pirates if Jim will save Silver from hanging once they return to England. 

When the others come back in, they hand Silver a page from the Bible on which they have drawn a black spot. They blame Silver for their troubles, but he calms them down by explaining that he has made a deal with Dr. Livesey for food, and that the pirates can use Jim as a hostage to guarantee their safety. He then shows them the treasure map. 

The next morning Dr. Livesey comes by to tend Silver’s wounded men. When Livesey and Jim have a moment alone, Livesey tries to convince Jim to run from Silver, but Jim refuses because he has already promised Silver that he would not. Later, tied to Silver with a rope, Jim sets off with the pirates to look for the tall tree indicated on the map. 

One of the men finds a human skeleton, with feet pointing in one direction and arms in another. Silver concludes it is one of Flint’s crew, serving as a pointer. Suddenly they hear “Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest—Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!” Though frightened, Silver suspects it is Ben Gunn. 

They set out again, but when they arrive at the spot where Silver thought the treasure was buried, they find only a large hole with some boards in it, marked Walrus, the name of Flint’s ship. This angers the pirates, who are about to kill Jim and Silver when shots ring out and two of the pirates fall dead. The three others, not including Silver, run off.

The shots were fired by Gray, Ben Gunn, and the doctor. During the three years that Ben was marooned, he had found the skeleton and the gold, and had hidden the treasure in his cave. That is why Livesey gave Silver the map. All of them, including Silver, board the boats and sail to the North Inlet, where they repossess the Hispaniola. 

They meet Trelawney and enter Gunn’s cave, where Jim sees gold heaped up in the corner and Smollett lying before a fire. They load the gold onto the Hispaniola and set sail, leaving the three remaining pirates on the island. 

When they dock off the coast of South America, Silver escapes, taking with him a bag of gold. Jim has told his story because Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey have asked him to do so. But he is not anxious to relive the adventure, since, at night, he still has nightmares of Long John Silver and of Cap’n Flint screaming “Pieces of eight!”


Billy Bones: Former first mate on the Walrus, Captain Flint’s ship. Flint had given him a map to buried treasure when he died. He hides out from the other Walrus crewmen, but eventually is found at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Lonely, fearsome, but somehow likable.

Ben Gunn: Former crewman on Flint’s ship. Smart, resourceful. Has been marooned for three years on Treasure Island. Befriends Jim; helps him thwart Long John Silver.

Jim Hawkins: Young narrator. Becomes cabin boy on the Hispaniola and discovers the mutiny plan. Shows courage while thwarting Long John Silver.

Dr. Livesey: Physician and judge. Friend of the Hawkins family. Pleasant, intelligent. Narrates part of the story.

Long John Silver: Former quartermaster on the Walrus; landlord of the Spyglass Tavern in Bristol; cook on the Hispaniola. Nicknamed “Barbecue” because of his role as cook. A tall, intelligent, smiling man who is capable of great treachery and who schemes to organize mutiny.

Alexander Smollett: Captain of the Hispaniola. Uneasy about the treasure hunt. Honest, courageous, shrewd. Warns the squire to beware of mutiny.

Squire John Trelawney: Local English squire. Tall, wealthy, pompous, hotheaded, gabby. Buys Hispaniola. At first, he trusts Silver and distrusts Smollett; but later, he reluctantly admits that he has misjudged them.

Main Themes and Ideas

Treasure Island is a tale of suspense and intrigue on the high seas. Unlike more complex adventure novels such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, in which many levels of meaning are intertwined, Treasure Island is a simple story of pirates, buried treasure, and thrilling adventures.

Its purpose is to entertain, not to instruct. The novel reflects a wide range of human traits and emotions—Jim’s honesty, Pew’s evil, Israel Hands’s deceitfulness, Long John Silver’s greed—but, as in fairy tales, these emotions are used only to identify characters as “good guys” or villains rather than to probe human psychology.

The three main themes of the novel are:

(1) Good vs. evil in which good eventually triumphs.

(2) Appearance vs. reality: Stevenson shows that one can draw incorrect conclusions about people if one judges them only by their appearance. Long John Silver, with his striking appearance, turns out to be deceitful, treacherous, and self-serving, even though at first he seems honest and friendly; the blind Pew appears helpless, but is actually capable of great violence; Billy Bones seems terrifying, yet is kinder and weaker than his appearance suggests.

(3) Right vs. wrong: Jim learns that one’s actions are not always completely right or wrong. The reader may find some actions to be morally wrong, such as Jim’s sneaking off the Hispaniola and his departure from the stockade; but tactically they are good actions, since they help the group thwart Long John Silver’s evil plans.


1. The vivid depiction of pirate life and culture

Robert Louis Stevenson’s extensive research into the life and culture of pirates in the 1700s is evident throughout Treasure Island. From the detailed descriptions of the pirate ships, to the vivid portrayals of their brutal and often lawless ways, Stevenson successfully transports readers to a time long gone. The colorful characters that inhabit this world, including the ruthless Long John Silver and the cunning Ben Gunn, add depth and intrigue to this already captivating story.

2. The themes of adventure and bravery

Treasure Island is an exciting adventure story that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. The daring exploits of Jim Hawkins and his companions as they search for the buried treasure are both thrilling and inspiring. The courage and resourcefulness displayed by these characters in the face of danger and adversity are a testament to the power of human resilience and determination.

3. The timeless appeal of the story

Despite being first published over a century ago, Treasure Island remains as relevant and entertaining today as it was when it was first written. The universal themes of adventure, friendship, and the triumph of good over evil continue to resonate with readers of all ages. The book’s enduring popularity is a testament to the genius of Robert Louis Stevenson and the timeless quality of his storytelling.


1. Lack of structure and continuity

One of the biggest issues I had with Treasure Island was its lack of structure and continuity. As a reader, I found myself getting lost in the narrative, with unnecessary explanations and roundabout ways of saying things making it difficult to follow the plot. Characters changed personalities suddenly, and some of the storylines were confusing to the point where I had to skip pages just to get back to something coherent.

2. Jim’s character and the reliance on luck

Jim Hawkins is the protagonist of Treasure Island, but as a character, I found him to be lacking in depth and substance. While the other characters were more fleshed out, Jim relied on extraordinary luck to get through most of his adventures. The reliance on luck made the story seem more like a child’s adventure tale than a nuanced and complex story.

3. Difficulty with language

Another issue I had with Treasure Island was the difficulty with the language. While the book is full of pirate expressions and vernacular, it was at times impenetrable and difficult to follow. I would have appreciated some footnotes or explanations to help me better understand the arcane expressions and vocabulary used in the book.


Treasure Island is a true classic that continues to captivate readers of all ages with its exciting adventure, vivid characters, and timeless themes. For those who have yet to experience this literary gem, I highly recommend picking up a copy and embarking on an unforgettable journey to Treasure Island.

About The Author

Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, essayist, poet and travel writer. He is best known for works such as Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Buy The Book: Treasure Island

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