The Lack of Adventure in the Modern Age

Stevenson frames his tale of piracy with a number of devices that emphasize the end of the story. He suggests that the tale belongs firmly to the past rather than to the present. Stevenson’s decision to set the story in the eighteenth century underscores the fact that the pirate life is outmoded. Stevenson also has Jim begin his narrative in the form of a retrospective chronicle that begins after the adventure is already over. We know from the first sentence that Jim, Squire Trelawney, Smollett, and Livesey have survived as victors. This knowledge lends a tone of gloom to the pirates’ first appearance, as we know they are doomed. The pirates die out rapidly over the course of the novel and are continually associated with death, disease, and disappearance. Indeed, the pirate’s skeleton found near the treasure site symbolizes the pirates’ impending doom.

Stevenson, however, does not glorify the death of piracy and the eradication of criminals. With Jim’s final sad farewell to the memory of Silver, in which he says that he will go on no more adventures, Stevenson creates a sort of elegy to the pirate life. Stevenson does not mourn its loss, but he makes us wonder whether the world is better off without the pirates’ charisma, charm, and spirit. He challenges the Victorian idea that captains, doctors, and other responsible professional men are the natural leaders of society. Stevenson was critical of stodgy Victorian professionalism throughout his life, and his somewhat romantic portrait of vanished pirates forms a sad tribute to what he feels is missing from the modern world.