Treasure Island | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island | Part 1, Chapter 2 : The Old Buccaneer (Black Dog Appears and Disappears) | Summary

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Summary

One frosty January morning, while the captain is out for a stroll, a stranger comes to the inn looking for a man named Billy Bones. The stranger—"a pale, tallow creature," missing two fingers on his left hand—goes by the name Black Dog. He claims to be Billy's mate. Jim admits that the stranger's description of Billy fits the captain. Black Dog then forces Jim to hide with him in the parlour and wait for the captain's return.

The encounter between the two men quickly erupts into a fight, with cutlasses drawn. Billy gets the best of Black Dog, slashing his shoulder and sending him running from the inn. But moments later, the captain collapses from a stroke. He is saved by the timely arrival of Dr. Livesey.

Analysis

As the chapter begins, Jim hints heavily that Billy Bones will come to a bad end. Then the arrival of Black Dog makes it clear that the old seaman has more to fear than a mysterious one-legged man.

The description of Black Dog is another example of physical appearance reflecting the savagery of certain characters. Like scarred Billy Bones, Black Dog has suffered disfigurement, having lost two fingers. Jim further describes him as a "pale, tallow creature." Tallow is a solid, paste-colored fat rendered from animals—not an attractive quality in a person's complexion. Jim also uses the descriptive word creature instead of man. This relates to the animal motif that runs through the story. In the name Black Dog, two motifs are referenced: the animal motif and the color black. His name signals to the reader that whatever his business is with Billy, it's dark and uncivilized, and it could be deadly.

The theme of duty is explored when Dr. Livesey treats Billy Bones for stroke. The doctor has no liking or respect for the old seaman but helps him anyway, as duty demands. He warns Billy that rum will be the death of him, underscoring rum as a symbol of reckless and deadly self-indulgence.

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