'Treasure Island' Questions for Study and Discussion

The Story of Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins

Captain Kidd, illustration for book 'Treasure Island' by Robert Louis Stevenson
Captain Kidd, illustration for book 'Treasure Island' by Robert Louis Stevenson. Getty Images/Apic/Hulton Archive

Not only is Robert Louis Stevenson's ​Treasure Island one of the most popular children's books in history, it's had a major influence on popular culture portrayals of 19th-century pirates. It tells the story of young Jim Hawkins, cabin boy on a ship bound for an island where the treasure is believed buried. He encounters pirates who seek to overthrow the ship's officers in a mutiny.

Published as a series in the magazine Young Folks between 1881 and 1882, Treasure Island is notable as a children's book because of the moral ambiguity of many of its main characters; the "good guys" are sometimes not so good, and its most memorable character, Long John Silver, is a classic anti-hero. The story has captured imaginations for more than a hundred years and has been adapted for film and television more than 50 times.​​

Questions for Study and Discussion

  • Why do you think Jim goes on the journey as a cabin boy?
  • How does Robert Louis Stevenson reveal the characters' motivations in Treasure Island?
  • Knowing that this was a serialized story when it was first published, do you have a sense of whether Stevenson plotted out the entire story before writing, or do you think he changed elements of the plot as he wrote each individual section?
  • What are some symbols in Treasure Island?
  • Is Jim Hawkins consistent in his actions? Is he a fully developed character?
  • What about ​Long John Silver--are his actions consistent?
  • How easily can you identify with Jim's feelings? Do you think this portrayal of a young boy seems dated, or does it stand the test of time?
  • If this novel were written in present day, what details would have to change?
  • Discuss how Long John Silver is or is not a father figure to Jim.
  • Which of the characters surprises you the most?
  • Does the story end the way you expected?
  • How essential is the setting to the story? Could the story have taken place anywhere else?
  • Besides Jim Hawkins' mother, there are very few women in Treasure Island. Do you think this is important to the plot?
  • What would a sequel to this novel have looked like? Would it be possible to continue the story?