A Matter of Perception: Treasure Island Is Good or Bad

Essay by rainbowmasterHigh School, 11th gradeB, November 2003

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Written in the nineteenth century, Treasure Island was the beginning of Robert

Louis Stevenson's career as a writer. While numerous critics think that his work

(Treasure Island) was a great success, there are still some that think it was not. In there

critiques they deal with moral concerns that the people of Stevenson's tome may have had

and literary excellence.

Maurice Hewlett says in his article in "Criticism Today" that Treasure Island along

with many other works of Stevenson is "not so wonderful a performance after all"

(www.wwwesterni.unibg.it/siti_esterni/rls/critrec.htm, 3/01/03). H.L.Mencken says that

even Stevenson's most doting admirers find his literature difficult to read. However, in

the struggle to read it, Treasure Island and other works by Stevenson belong in the second

rank if not first. Mencken also adds that here is nothing in Treasure Island to save it and

that it was empty. "But their ideas are seldom notable either for vigor or originality"

(www.wwwesterni.unibg.it/siti_esterni/rls/critrec.htm, 3/01/03).

Stevenson himself admits in a letter to Sidney Colvin that he borrowed ideas for

his own pieces of work from others. Still after admitting that he gains a number of fans

including William Gladstone (1809-1898), who served as the British Prime Minister for

four terms between 1865 and 1894, as one of his greatest fans. Apparently it is written

well enough to gain fans throughout England. So it must be a somewhat good piece of

literature. William Blackburn writes in his essay, "Much of Treasure Island is in brilliantly

handled dramatic dialogue, salty enough to convey the tang of piratical talk yet chaste

enough to pass muster with the most respectable of parents" (Nineteenth-Century

Literature Criticism, Vol. 63, pp.253). It is so wonderfully written that it is suitable for all

ages. For example, to clarify something, before misunderstanding, he uses brief

interjections from the narrator or a more mature character. This is especially helpful to the

young reader.

Blackburn writes that Treasure Island is "brilliantly handled" with its

"interweaving" activities that would happen at the same time. A young person is able to

understand what happens all the time. Yet, in writing for the young reader, Stevenson

also writes so that adults are able to enjoy it as well as the young reader.

"Stevenson is very much aware of the need to supplement children's experience of

human nature," says Blackburn. He shows morals for everyday life. Blackburn writes that

Stevenson found numerous ways to portray values leading to success in this world. Jim

Hawkins, as the narrator and the protagonist of the story, knows that the treasure he

wants was blood money, and he is afraid of becoming somebody who can live with himself

possessing all that money while knowing what the cause of it was. It would be immoral.

The book describes the island as a place with swamps and the whole place seems kind of

gloomy. Blackburn believes that this description may in fact be a reflection of Jim

Hawkins himself -- an internalization. The adventure in Treasure Island is, beneath it all,

"a psychological journey" with "its most precious reward being a modest degree of

self-knowledge" (Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 63, pp.252).

Jim "regrets having broken the rules, even when following them might have led to

disaster" (Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 63, pp.256). Blackburn thinks

that the book shows that it is better to follow the rules that lead to disaster than to break

the rules all together. He definitely believes that Treasure Island has things to give the

reader moral understandings.

David H. Jackson writes in an essay, "Because the romance revival was a

conservative literary response to the ideological crisis of late-Victorian England, the

reception of Treasure Island must be understood in relation to the horizon of literary and

moral expectations shared by Haggard, Stevenson, and their many middle-classed readers.

The romance movement distrusted scientism and deliberately idealized life"

(Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 63, pp.257). While there are those who

think that Treasure Island is not so great, there are some that think that it is a great novel

because it deals with moral issues and is written for not only the child but the adult too.

An essay in the "Pall Mall Gazette" says Treasure Island is: "A book for boys which can

keep hardened and elderly reviewers in a state of pleasing excitement and attention"

(Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 5, pp.394). None of the critics today can

tell you if Treasure Island is a good book or not. It is a matter of perception to see it as a

good or bad book. Like the saying is, "You can't argue taste."

Works Cited

Barterian, Gerald R., Evans, Denis Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism Vol. 63.

Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984. This source has a brief ananysis of

Treasure Island's literary excellence.

Harris, Laurie Lanzen, Fitzgerald, Sheila. Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism Vol.

5. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1998. This source has numerous critics

talking about literary excellence and morals that is shown through Treasure Island.

ClassicNote on Treasure Island: About Treasure Island, 1 March 2003

Robert Louis Stevenson: Critical Reception, 1 March 2003