Robert Louis Stevenson
Entertainment has a good influence or a bad influence on people. The way writers, producers, and artists put out their craft can create a gray area on what our positive and negative influences are. Any good creator knows how to work their audience in order to gain interest and attract an audience. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is able to gain interest from the novel, by connecting to demographics like the middle and lower class, men, and children. The contents of the novel are exciting and entertaining, but the realities of pirate life does not match up with the description of pirates in the novel. There is a recurring theme of addiction to drugs and alcohol, greed, or power that sends off the wrong message to its audience about these addictions. Although Stevenson glorifies the pirate lifestyle, it is in reality marred by constant social,economic and legal struggles.
When the novel was first written in 1882, Robert Louis Stevenson intended audience was children. Robert Louis Stevenson was able to appeal to this demographic with much success. Many literary critics have realized that “... many readers have felt the power of Treasure Island, but no one can quite explain it. Who could account for the effect upon an eight-year-old boy who begged to read one more chapter at bedtime.”(Sutton). This strange attraction that no one is able to point is what has made it an instant classic for bedtime stories and a main point of discussion for all scholars. As children read this novel there are many elements that keep that eight- year-old wanting to read more of the novel. The setting of the novel would play a major part keeping more children reading“As an image of the fully integrated self, the island is often an earthly paradise—it makes no difference whether we speak of Avalon, or the Isles of the Blessed, or even the Garden of Eden.” (Blackburn). Islands often seen as symbols of paradise on earth in literature in examples like the Garden of Eden and Avalon. The setting for the island in the novel is no different in representing a utopia for children. The main character of Treasure Island, Jim Hawkins who is a teenager describes the island as “I approached that island in my fancy, from every possible direction; I explored every acre of its surface”. The way Hawkins describes his surroundings he is excited by the adventure and exploration that awaits for him at the island. Children are not allowed to go wandering off and have this range of freedom that Jim is experiencing. As young readers go through the novel that feeling of adventure can only be experienced through a novel like treasure island.
Children were not the only demographic that enjoyed reading the novel, as adult men had also taken liking to Treasure Island. Before it was novel, “Treasure Island was originally published in serial form in the magazine Young Folks. It offered everything boys were supposed to enjoy: adventure, danger, travel, guns, fighting, and gore.”(Noimann). Adventure, danger, travel,guns, and fighting are things that would be in interest of a prototypical male. No one expresses the violent culture on the pirate ship like Israel Hands: “Well, now I tell you, I never seen good come o' goodness yet. Him as strikes first is my fancy; dead men don't bite; them's my views--amen, so be it.”(Stevenson). Israel Hands mindset is that you ethier killing someone or someone is killing you, which builds to suspense and danger that boys and young men look for when they read novels. The image the characters are portraying of how gentleman should behave is completely different than how a prototypical british man should act. In the Victorian era men were to act civilized and be educated to be considered gentleman. In Treasure Island, Stevenson rejects the idea of what a gentleman should and redfines as: “ This combination of adventure, greed, and violence, with a commitment to domestic duties… is key to Stevenson's unique definition of the British gentleman.”(Noimann). Many men seem to agree with his definition of how they should act, and created interest for the book and an influence in their behavior.
Aside from children and men, another demographic that Robert Louis Stevenson did not intend to take a fancy to his novel is the middle and lower class. The time the novel was written, the economic system in England was unbalanced and against the middle and lower classes. Many members of the these social classes would have to work in factories and mills and paid an inadequate paycheck with no chance of changing their social status. Stevenson’s characters in this novel resemble the same background as the middle and lower class of England. In their case, “Stevenson allows some room for class mobility, creating a hierarchy where loyalty, brains or skills may be recognised. The crew have been promised shares in the treasure, so good behaviour would have brought a reward.”(Fletcher).The novel shows that there can class mobility and that anyone can go from rags to riches like Jim Hawkins and gives them hope that they can succeed. Also it allows the reader to realize that it is not a bad idea to go out and treasure hunt and improve their lifestyle instead of working paycheck to paycheck. Another character in the novel explains his story why he became a pirate: “ Long John Silver, he is called, and has lost a leg; but that I regarded as a recommendation, since he lost it in his country's service, under the immortal Hawke. He has no pension, Livesey.”(Stevenson 35). Long John Silver is a perfect example in describing how the middle and lower class feel at this time as they do not feel valued by who they are working for. They are willing to try anything if it means they can improve the lifestyle they currently have. Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver are the examples of being the person they want to be: a wealthy person who came from nothing. The fantasy world that Stevenson created in Treasure appealed many demographics such as children, men, and the middle and lower class. The story that is exciting and thrilling is also mixed with false and misleading information about pirates. The message taken from the novel can give its intended audience the wrong impression about pirates. Pirates who resemble Long John Silver resemble real life pirates more than pirates like Captain Smollett and Jim Hawkins. Pirates thrived in a golden era in which, “Not long after the Spanish colonies in the Americas started to generate massive wealth, pirates started to attack the ships, taking the gold, silver, and other treasures from the Americas to Spain and later from Brazil to Portugal.” (Corfield). Pirates were known more as bandits more than explorers and adventurers. Long John Silver had ressemble the same attitude, “ You give us the chart to get the treasure by, and drop shooting poor seamen and stoving of their heads in while asleep.”(Stevenson 96). Here Long John Silver wants to cut a deal with Captain Smollett to give him the treasure map. This type of stealing is not similar in magnitude to the thievery that actual pirates used to commit, but nonetheless Long John Silver is trying steal. Even though Captain Smollett and Jim Hawkins could find the treasure, in real life there would be no map, no quest, no treasure to find and the only thing that would be considered treasure is whatever you could take from others.
The life of being a pirate is not filled with teamwork and collaboration in which the end result everyone will be rewarded for finding the treasure. The reader should not believe the description of the pirates in the novel and instead“Castigates Stevenson's novel because “the expedition was launched by greed and decorated with murder and treachery, and concluded by luck rather than righteousness”(Blackburn). An expedition like this one is filled with treachery and murder, that it is by pure luck that Jim made it out alive. There are specific examples in the novel where Jim Hawkins comes face to face with death . Jim was hiding in a barrel as he overheard Long John Silver plan, “That Jim would have been killed him through the barrel. Meantime, Long John Silver ran on, little supposing he was overheard.”(Stevenson 55).There is serious danger that comes from being surrounded by pirates. There is already lack of trust between crew mates on a ship because of the risk of being betrayed. Overhearing something that was said in confidence could lead to death of that person, from the already paranoid state of the ship.
The way pirates act resemble more of being criminals of the sea rather than explorers who venture on a quest. Pirates who are infamously known to raid are the same pirates that land into legal trouble. The end of the golden age of piracy, “In 1720, two famous pirates, Charles Vane and "Calico Jack" Rackham, were hanged at Port Royal, and two years later some 41 pirates were hanged there in a single month.”(Corfield). The excitement of being a pirate has died off because of the high risk of being arrested by the government and hung for their crimes. In treasure island there is no evidence of any law enforcement that is present in the novel and does not show the risk of falling into legal trouble. Even Jim Hawkins had committed crimes,“In the horrid pain and surprise of the moment — I scarce can say it was by my own volition, and I am sure it was without a conscious aim — both my pistols went off.” (Stevenson 117). Here he had just killed Israel Hands, a man who was also after the same treasure that Jim was looking for.At the end of the novel Jim was able to live in peace after he found the treasure as he describes,“It was just at sundown when we cast anchor in a most beautiful landlocked gulf… The sight of so many good-humoured faces the taste of the tropical fruits, and above all the lights that began to shine in the town made a most charming”(151). It seems that there is no consequences for the main character, which does not represent the punishment that is given for misbehavior for being a pirate.
The environment created by a group of privateers is not just competitive but also hostile one. The same men that work together are also against each other as they are no allegiances towards each other. Pirates like “Edward Teach, ‘Blackbeard,’ became infamous not only for his savagery but for his outlandish appearance. He was killed in combat in 1718.” (Corfield). Pirates like Blackbeard, truly existed and are only famous for the wrong things such as savagery and conquests. Shows the manner that pirates behave towards each other in which they kill or get killed, which Israel Hands had alluded to. Stevenson also includes parts of the novel in which some pirates show they have a soft spot. Doctor Livesey is a perfect example, “His manner, I suppose, reacted on the men, for they behaved to him as if nothing had occurred, as if he were still ship's doctor and they still faithful hands before the mast.(124). When, Jim and Long John Silver were taken hostage, Doctor Livesey had the choice of rescuing from being hostage or let them die out. Doctor Livesey is shown helping the hostages and doing the total opposite of what a cold-hearted buccaneer would. A real pirate would have let them die, but Doctor Livesey gives the wrong impression of pirates by presenting them as caring people.
Aside from the misrepresentation of how actual pirates act, there is a heavy emphasis on specific elements that all pirates are after. One thing pirates are synonymous with is the treasure they are after. Pirates do not care who they have to betray and what they have to do to get the treasure they will do it. Israel Hands discusses how much it pains him to not able to start the mutiny and steal their treasure,“how long are we a-going to stand off and on like a blessed bumboat… I want to go into that cabin, I do. I want their pickles and wines, and that”(Stevenson 52). Israel Hands shows that he needs a greater share of treasure and he could not careless who he is hurting in his quest of acquiring more wealth. A major demographic like boys and young men who read,Treasure Island, boys’ adventures are conflated with the mercantile speculation and “get rich quick” schemes implicit in the era’s capitalist culture.”(Mathison). Most of the literature that they read relates to a capitalist culture where a person self-worth is determined by how rich they are. To another demographic like the middle and lower class,“In Treasure Island, capitalism’s alienating and dehumanizing influence on interpersonal relations further reinforces the assignment of value to commodities.”(Mathison). With the need to get more money and achieve wealth, human relationships are torn up in order to satisfy one's greed. Treasure Island is sending the wrong message to these group of people about wealth that would only creates a damaging addiction to greed.
With a lot of wealth and addiction towards greed also comes the ugly need of power and the ability to control people at will. The pirates on the ship in Treasure Island follow the same pattern of having an addiction towards greed leads to an addiction to power. Long John Silver presents it here as,“All the crew respected and even obeyed Long John Silver. He had a way of talking to each and doing everybody some particular service”(Stevenson 50). He is able to manipulate people in a way to do what he wants them to do, such as start a mutiny against Jim Hawkins and the rest of the ship. His ability to disguise himself as a crew member and also able to take control is remarkable but also shows the need for him to control others. Long John Silvershows his need to control others like, “Mr. Arrow, first of all, turned out even worse than the captain had feared. He had no command among the men, and people did what they pleased with him.”(Stevenson 56). Long John Silver clearly is able identify who the weak are and take advantage for his own benefit. “Though he is their leader, Silver has no intention of fulfilling his promises to redistribute the capital evenly among them, but tries to cheat Trelawney, Livesey, Jim and George Merry by turns.” (Fletcher). Long John Silver, a man who disguised himself as the ship’s cook leads a group of men against the established leadership on the ship. He has the power of determining if wants to give out the treasure that is found evenly. Gives the message to the middle and lower class that having great power can get to one’s head and be used for good or evil.
A novel that is about pirates and the way they act and behave is destined to have references to alcohol. It should be noted that the targeted group for this novel are children. Having references to alcohol is not suited for a novel intended for children to read. References such as the one by Billy Bones:“and I lived on rum, I tell you. It's been meat and drink, and man and wife, to me; and if I'm not to have my rum now I'm a poor old hulk on a lee shore, my blood'll be on you, Jim, and that doctor swab”(Stevenson 17) should not be acceptable. Billy Bones describes rum as something he needs to live on like food and water. It shows that alcohol is a necessity for people who are going through tough times and need to drown their sorrow with rum, which is the wrong message to children. Another reference to alcohol made by another pirate named Pew,“I'm to be a poor, crawling beggar, sponging for rum, when I might be rolling in a coach!”(Stevenson 26). Here Pew describes that it does not matter if how rich he is and might have enough money to buy a coach he will continue spending money on rum. For children reading this novel it gives the message that it is a necessity to drink alcohol no matter how good or bad a person’s situation is.
The prototypical pirate that is known to most of the population is the one that is seen in pop culture. Most recently, Disney corporation has taken in interest in pirates and have created rides at its theme parks and movies like The Pirates of The Caribbean. It should be noted that much of the inspiration for these rides and movies, “Instead of European fairy tales, the texts that the ride works to close are general Pirate narratives - taken from or inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson,” (Petersen). It has already been proven that the work of Robert Louis Stevenson from pirate narratives like Treasure Island have been known to be misleading in order to glorify pirates. The glorification continues in the description of the ride Pirates, “That the false“as the pirates discover the town's rum supplies, dunk the mayor in the well, and observe as women of the pillaged village are auctioned off to the higher bidder.” (Petersen). With examples of the elements in the ride show that it is not suitable for the children that go on this ride. For some reason Disney feels that, “potential anxieties are completely negated through humor and caricature. The Pirates are dumpy, disfigured, and while ostensibly "dangerous," are clearly not a serious threat.” (Petersen). The imagineers of the ride try to play off the immoral actions by making them seem non-threatening. It has now come to the point where a majority of the population is able downplay the actions of pirates based of what is written in novels and seen in today’s pop culture.
Ultimately, economic, legal, and social struggles is what comes with being a pirate, but Robert Louis Stevenson is able to glorify such an immoral lifestyle. The author is able to glorify this by being able to target the right audience for his novel which are children, men, the middle and lower class. Reading through the novel, the true life of a pirate does not match the life of pirates that the author has created. The true life of a pirate is riddled with economic, legal, and social struggles. Greed, Power, and Alcohol are glorified instead being shown as damaging addictions. When the word pirate comes up in pop culture, most of the population refers to the description written in Treasure Island. The influence of Treasure Island will lead its audience to false promises and misinformation of the true meaning of being a pirate.