The main theme in Treasure Island is the coming-of-age of Jim Hawkins. At the beginning of the novel, Jim is a young boy living with his parents in a quiet country inn. He knows little of the outside world. By the end, he is a young man who has encountered death, sailed the high seas, experienced mortal danger on several occasions, killed a man in self-defense, used his ingenuity and courage to survive, and been rewarded with a share of treasure that anyone of his age would envy.
After the death of his father, Jim meets a number of older men who present him with possible role models for him to follow. There is the adventurous spirit and organizing ability of the squire, the stoic good sense and leadership of Captain Smollett, and Dr. Livesey's professional standing and moral qualities-his willingness to treat the wounds of his enemies, for example, and his desire to give the piece of choice Parmesan cheese that he carries in his snuffbox to Ben Gunn. On the other hand, there is the example of Long John Silver and the other mutineers. Whose example will Jim follow?
Perhaps the answer is that Jim does not so much follow the lead of others as trust to his own ingrained good sense and moral awareness. Although at first he is drawn to Silver and thinks he is an admirable man, he naturally turns away from him when he sees what Silver is really like. (Squire Trelawney also makes the same initial mistake about Silver.)
Jim's strong moral values ensure that as he goes through these tempestuous experiences, he makes decisions that work out well for himself and his companions. Never for a moment does Jim contemplate joining the pirates. His friends the doctor and the squire know this and never cease to trust him, even when he slips ashore with the pirates without asking for permission.
Part of Jim's trustworthiness may be due to his strong religious faith. For example, during his deadly confrontation with Israel Hands, who has killed his shipmate O'Brien, Jim says, "You can kill the body, Mr. Hands, but not the spirit . . . O'Brien there is in another world, and maybe watching us" (Chapter XXVI). Perhaps it is this religious awareness that gives Jim the calmness he needs in difficult circumstances, although he also sometimes experiences the terror that anyone would feel if placed in similar situations.
In the firmness of his moral compass, Jim is contrasted with two other members of the crew who waver in their loyalties. Abraham Gray, for example, is at first tempted to join the conspirators, but eventually he makes the right choice. Dick, however, makes a different choice. Unable to resist the temptations held out by Silver, he becomes one of the mutineers. In Chapter XXXII there is a glimpse of Dick's tragedy. When the pirates are shaken by what they think is the voice of Flint's ghost, Jim reports that "Dick had his Bible out and was praying volubly. He had been well brought up, had Dick, before he came to sea and fell among bad companions." Dick is here directly contrasted with Jim. Both had been well brought up, in religious homes. But Jim has learned to make good choices in life; Dick has made only bad ones.
Treasure Island: Theme Analysis