Analysis: Chapters XXV–XXVII

Jim’s authority continues to grow in these chapters. His taking control of the ship in Chapter XXV and declaration to Israel Hands that he should be addressed as captain demonstrate Jim’s meteoric rise in prestige. He has promoted himself from cabin boy to captain on one single voyage. This quick ascent to power is as central to Jim’s adventure as the search for treasure, and is perhaps more important; Jim, unlike the adults, devotes hardly any thought to the treasure itself or the life of leisure it can buy. As Jim stumbles into stockade and hears the parrot scream “[p]ieces of eight,” we recall that the gold coins are the mutineers’—as well as Squire Trelawney’s—highest goal. These “[p]ieces of eight” are not the catchphrase of Jim’s own quest, however, as he is less interested in loot than in proving his worth as a hero and a man.

Jim and Hands’s struggle on deck is more than a match between the good and the bad. Stevenson also gives the fight symbolic value, using it to highlight the contrast between the self-aware Jim and the self-destructive and reckless Hands. Indeed, Jim repeatedly takes firm control of his surroundings in these chapters. He tells Hands outright that he has taken possession of the ship, and later, after the fight, waits a while to climb down from the mast until, as he remarks, “I was once more in possession of myself.” Hands, in sharp contrast, is unable to take possession of anything. The ship he is supposedly guarding is cut adrift and blowing about wildly while he lies on the deck drunk. Indeed, Hands’s loss of control over the vessel mirrors his loss of control over himself. The symbolism of alcohol is again apparent: drunkenness, more than causing mere bodily intoxication, represents a total inability to maintain control of one’s own life.

Jim’s treatment of the dead Irishman’s body in Chapter XXVII is unexpected, given his objection, in the preceding chapter, to Hands’s suggestion that they push the corpse overboard. Jim’s heaving the body into the sea without hesitation leaves us to wonder whether he had merely been pretending to care about the Irishman’s eternal soul. Jim’s lack of solemnity is even more jarring when contrasted with the tears Squire Trelawney sheds over Tom’s dead body in Chapter XVIII. Stevenson implies that respect for the dead is a mark of proper upbringing. Granted, the Irishman is Jim’s enemy, but his coldness toward the corpse is nonetheless uncharacteristic. These instances when Jim seems to straddle the line between the civilized men and the pirates make his character more interesting and complex. His sudden piratelike behavior causes us to question how conventional or complete Jim’s civic and spiritual development has been.