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Treasure Island Challenge

Treasure Island is certainly a great story about pirates, but it is also a great story in that it gives us a chance to examine the good and bad in man, and to challenge our expectations about civilized and uncivilized men.

While it may seem exciting or romantic to imagine a pirate's life from our modern vantage point, it was not as romantic at the time as we may now think. The living conditions on the ship were barely passable, the food poor, the health and sanitation worse. The dangers were immense - not only fear of being captured by the governments the pirates robbers, but also fear of being cheated, swindled, or murdered by one another. The chance to actually realize a fortune were slim for anyone except the leader of a pirate band. But there was a brotherhood in each pirate band than drew the poor and needy to their fold, and sometimes lead to sharing in exotic wealth but rarely did the wealth last long enough to spring a pirate out of the bloody career of robbery and murder.

Treasure Island is a chance to see the strengths and weaknesses of the players in a pirate's tale. We have the wealthy boat owners and their hired captain and officers who hope to make their fortune off the labors of the impoverished sailors. And while the city-bred officers seem more polished and civilized on the surface, their allowance of the sailors' suffering and servitude is a questionable form of inhumane behavior. In comparison, the sailors appear a motley crew on the surface, with little civilized behavior between them, barely disguising their piratical urges behind their work as ship's sailors. And while we could presume that it is the sailing men who are uncivilized, it turns out Long John silver has a deep streak of humanity in him, in spite of his barbarous behavior.
And so we see a story unfold, where the good are not all good, and the bad, not all bad. This is a parable for the nature of man. Stevenson allows us to find the pirate Long John a sympathetic man. This may be in part because Stevenson had a strong bohemian / rebellious urge in his own nature. It may also be because it weaves a good plot. For whatever reason, we are given a look into the thoughts and motivations of pirates-turned-sailors-turned-pirates, and see them as men affected by their unfortunate social circumstance as much as by their personal yearnings and weaknesses.

To help our students consider this paradox of good and evil, here are a few good questions to pose to them, and that can be answered in a special Treasure Island Log we encourage them to keep during their study unit. If they read the original text, or watch a film, these questions will be appropriate and thought provoking challenges to answer.


Treasure Island Challenge -

please record the questions and your answer on pages you make into a Ship's Log. Feel free to decorate the Log with ships, flags and signs of treasure .. maybe even a map ?


There are three layers of participants in the voyage of the Hispaniola. The owners, the captain and his officers, and the poorly paid crew.

1. Who stands to benefit the most financially from the voyage of the Hispaniola if it goes as planned by the owners ?

2. Who stands to benefit the least from the voyage of the Hispaniola as planned by its owners ?

3. Who is at the greatest risk to life and limb during the voyage ? Think about who outnumbers who on the ship.

4. Do the people who stand to gain the most also suffer the greatest physical risk ?

5. Or is the greatest risk faced by another group ? Which one ?

6. Those who are the least likely to benefit from the voyage as it is planned decide to change the plans of the voyage to increase their opportunity for profit. How do they make this change take place ? And who does it put at risk ?

7. Jonathan Hawkins is a young man with little way to protect himself on this voyage. Who provides him with protection ? and from what group or groups do his protectors belong ?

8. Who in turn is Jonathan Hawkins loyal to in return ?

9. Who does Jonathan Hawkins show mercy to as a result of the loyalty shown to him ?

10. What are the good and bad characteristics of the captain and his officers ?

11. What are Long John Silver's good and bad characteristics.

12. If you had to be a character in this story, which one would you chose and why ?