Narrator’s role in Treasure Island by Stevenson

Why does Stevenson select young Jim and not any of the other grown up characters for the narrator in Treasure Island?

The reason is because more than any other character’s story, Treasure Island is the story of Young Jim. It is his adventure and his role is central to it. Another important reason is that the story would seem more interesting from a young boy’s perspective than from a mature and experienced man’s angle. The other characters are grown up and lack the same excitement and youthfulness as Jim. The story would also sound grown up and less exciting if told by another character. The character of Young Jim is like a binding thread which holds the characters and the story together. He is innocent and he is adventurous apart from being courageous. He is a character who can connect more easily with others than any other character in the story. Moreover, his role is more active and direct starting right from the beginning.  His role inspires a kind of clarity and thrill that would have been difficult to achieve had anyone else like Squire Trelawney, Mr Livesey or Captain Smollet had been the narrator. There are several interesting events in the story which Jim has himself watched and been a part of.

Neither Livesey nor Smollett have been a part of those events. Whether it is the arrival of the Captain (Billy Bones) at the Admiral Benbow inn or the first meeting with Ben Gunn, it is young Jim who is at the center of these events. He is like a young detective. The most important thing is that Treasure Island is equally successful at engaging people of all ages whether young readers or grownups. Apart from Jim, all the characters in the novel are grown up and experienced.  The use of a different narrator would have made it a pirate story but reduced the taste of adventure in it. Just as young David Balfour in Kidnapped, Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island keeps the story alive and engages the audience better. The same excitement cannot be expected if the story is told by another narrator. It will not just mean a change of perspective but a change in the flavor of the events. All the other characters are more mature and their narration would also reduce the flavor in the plot.

Despite being a young kid, Jim is courageous. He is innocent enough to be loved and patronized by Long John Silver. He is also a bridge between the two parties in the novel – ‘Jim and Friends’ and the ‘Pirates’. Moreover, it is easier to tell the story and keep the excitement alive with young Jim. He gets to taste adventure more than anyone else throughout the journey and being a young kid is able to sneak into corners that none of the grownup characters can. He overhears the pirates’ plot on the ship by hiding inside a barrel. Jim is also the most likable character and the luckiest one who gets to see more of the action than anyone. It is also why he is more suitable to be the narrator than any other character. He is the one, easiest to connect with in the entire novel.

Viewing the story through the lens of Jim’s emotions gives the readers a more clear perspective on the events. However, as the story progresses the readers find Jim maturing. He has learnt from his experiences and has grown completely mature after his ordeal with a brutal pirate called Israel Hands. Jim is the only character who is able to connect so deeply with the cunning villain long John Silver. This also shows the moral strength of his character which cannot be matched by any other in the novel. As a kid, his conscience is clear and that also makes him the best choice for the narrator. When he has returned from the adventure, he is haunted by the dreams of Long John silver and his parrot crying Pieces of Eight”. All of this implies that Jim has matured and emerged as the hero of the entire adventure. Jim’s coming of age is a very important feature of the novel and that would not have been highlighted as emphatically, had Stevenson selected another narrator to tell the tale.

So, the point of Jim’s narration is to make the tale as exciting and engaging as possible. Jim attains maturity and has grown highly experienced in a short span of time after being through so many life threatening  situations.  This is the central charm of the entire story.  If we try the perspective of any other character in the novel, this part of the story may be lost. There are so many thrills associated with Jim’s character mainly. All these factors make him a fit narrator for the story. By the time, the adventure is over, everyone knows Jim as an intelligent, smart and capable boy who does not lose his composure in intense situations. Jim himself reveals in the opening lines that the other gentlemen including  Dr Livesey and Squire Trelawney have suggested him to write down the entire adventure. He is neither too young and nor too old at the time he starts narrating the story and therefore provides a balanced perspective on the entire chain of events. If the author has used Dr Livesey to narrate three of the chapters in the middle then it is only to deepen the suspense.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.