Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Despite Jim’s solidarity with Smollett’s crew, teamwork is not a dominant motif in Treasure Island. Instead, Stevenson emphasizes Jim’s recurring moments of solitude. Though Jim does spend time with his family at the beginning of the novel and is later frequently in the company of the captain’s men and the pirates’ band, these intervals are punctuated by far more crucial moments during which Jim is alone. For instance, Jim is alone when he meets Pew, the pirate who delivers the black spot that sets the story in motion. He is alone in the apple barrel when he overhears the critical information about the mutiny that enables him to save Smollett. He is alone when he meets Ben Gunn in the woods and learns the directions to the treasure. Jim is also alone when he sails in the coracle to cut the ship adrift, depriving the pirates of their means of escape. Throughout the novel, Jim’s instances of solitude are associated with self-reliance and show his maturity. This solitude may also have a downside, however. Jim’s decision to function independently, rather than as part of a larger team, may be what prompts Smollett to tell him that they will never voyage together again. Jim may be too individualistic to make a good rank-and-file sailor.
Though many works of children’s literature link animals to childhood, in Treasure Island animals are associated not with Jim but with the pirates. Jim does not have a pet in the novel, but Long John Silver has his eerie parrot named Cap’n Flint. The parrot does not affirm Silver’s humanity, but rather emphasizes the pirates’ inhumanity, as the bird is witness to two centuries of heinous pirate crimes. Cap’n Flint’s raucous screeching of other men’s words echoes the pirates’ constant singing about their greed, violence, and selfishness. The parrot’s incessant mockery suggests that the pirates are better at making noise than producing intelligent statements.
The pirates resemble other animals as well. As they climb over the stockade fence in Chapter XXI, Stevenson compares them to monkeys. When Jim first sees the ex-pirate Ben Gunn in Chapter XV, he likens him to a “creature ... like a deer.” Later, when Jim faces down his captors in Chapter XXVIII, they all stare at him “like as many sheep,” suggesting that they are all faceless, submissive members of a herd. Notably, Stevenson never likens the captain’s group to any animals, suggesting that the captain’s men are decent human beings while the pirates are subhuman creatures.
The Color Black
Stevenson also repeatedly associates the color black with the pirates. The pirate flag, the Jolly Roger, is black, in sharp contrast with the colorful British flag, the Union Jack. The pirates also give out black spots, verdicts delivered to their victims. Significantly, the pirate who discovers Billy in hiding is named Black Dog. Likewise, the pirate Pew, in his blindness, lives in a state of unending blackness. When Jim creeps among the sleeping pirates, he proceeds “where the darkness was thickest,” an image that likens the pirates to chunks of blackness. Many of Jim’s most frightening encounters with the pirates, such as his examination of the dead Billy, his drifting near the pirate camp on the island, and his accidental entry among the sleeping pirates in the stockade, occur in the black of the night. Certainly, as the color of funerals and mourning, black is associated with death, and the pirates leave a wake of death wherever they travel. Black is also the color of absence, the total lack of light, enlightenment, and illumination. The pirates’ lack of light contrasts with the shining, glimmering gold for which they search—and which they wrongly imagine will brighten their dark lives.