Treasure Island | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island | Part 6, Chapter 32 : Captain Silver (The Treasure Hunt—The Voice Among the Trees) | Summary

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Summary

The pirates stop to rest at the top of the plateau, which commands a sweeping view of the island. Suddenly, a high, trembling voice breaks the silence. It comes from the trees, singing "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

The men are struck with terror, believing it's the ghost of Flint. Even Silver is shaken, though he tries to pass it off as playing a joke. The voice comes again, more distant now and crying, "Darby M'Graw!" over and over, followed by an order to "fetch aft the rum." Tom Morgan moans that these were Flint's last words before he died. Silver struggles to squash the rising terror among the men, but they are too spooked. However, they soon recognize the voice as that of their old shipmate Benn Gunn. None of the men fear him, alive or dead! With renewed spirits, the party sets out again, on fire with the thought of finding £700,000 in gold.

About this time Jim notices a change come over Silver. He has no doubt that, finding the treasure, he will "cut every honest throat" on the island and sail to freedom on the Hispaniola.

Then all hope of finding treasure comes abruptly to an end. Reaching the top of the hill, the pirates find a gaping hole where £700,000 of gold should have been.

Analysis

Tension among the pirates is high as the chapter opens. During much of what occurs, it is not what the pirates see, but what they hear, that heightens the tension further. At first, from their place on the plateau, where they rest, nothing can be heard but the distant breakers and the chirp of insects in the brush. These are the lonely sounds of an isolated island, far from the safe and civilized world. It makes the sound of an unexpected, disembodied voice from the trees all the more unnerving, especially when the voice mimics the much-feared Captain Flint.

When the men decide that the voice belongs to their old shipmate Ben Gunn—dead or alive—they relax enough to resume their hunt. It seems they neither fear nor respect the man. The men have no idea just how clever and resourceful Gunn is; that by his wits alone, he has survived three years on this island. This foreshadows the time when three of their group will be similarly marooned, but far less likely to survive.

Jim's fears of betrayal are realized as the pirates close in on the treasure. The intensity of Silver's emotion raises a question about his underlying feelings for Jim. Perhaps Silver is conflicted about killing Jim and, in a sense, hates him for forcing his hand. But kill him, he must. Silver knows Jim is too honorable to join him in his piracy, and if he eliminates the other honest men, he has no choice but to end Jim's life as well.

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