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Duty in Treasure Island: Quotes & Overview

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

''Treasure Island'' by Robert Louis Stevenson is the story of a group of men who set out to find a treasure from a map found among the belongings of a deceased pirate. While some of the crew have a strong sense of duty, others have criminal intent.

Background and Definitions

What does duty mean to you? There are some who have a strong sense of integrity that always follow through on their duties. There are others who generally squeak by contributing the bare minimum. Duty is a commitment to follow through with your obligations. In Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, a nobleman named Trelawney hires a crew and secures a ship to go on a treasure-hunting expedition after the protagonist, Jim, finds a treasure map that belonged to the pirate, Billy Bones. The ship's captain, Captain Smollett, has a strong sense of duty, but a big portion of his crew are actually pirates who intend to steal the treasure and take over the ship. Let's examine some quotes about duty from this novel.

Captain Smollett

Have you ever had a job you hated, but you continued to work hard to complete it because you felt obligated? From the beginning of the voyage, there is a great deal of tension between Trelawney and Captain Smollett. Smollett is less than impressed with the crew Trelawney has hired. Further, Smollett has a bad feeling about this trip. Despite his reservations, Captain Smollett reassures Trelawney, 'You'll find I do my duty.' Smollett demonstrates that he is a man of honor because he agrees to follow through on the job he accepted.

Upon sighting the island where the treasure is buried, Captain Smollett takes the opportunity to congratulate the men on the crew. Smollett says, 'Mr. Trelawney, being a very openhanded gentleman, as we all know, has just asked me a word or two, and as I was able to tell him that every man on board had done his duty, alow and aloft, as I never ask to see it done better…' Smollett praises the men because they work hard and are knowledgeable about the sea. He does not realize that it is not a sense of duty that inspires them. The men are pirates who have come to take the treasure.

Long John Silver Leads the Mutiny

When the pirates take their boat out to the island, Jim decides to go with them. Very soon, he realizes he has made a mistake and tries to distance himself from them and hide among the vegetation on the island. Jim narrates, 'And now I began to feel that I was neglecting my business, that since I had been so foolhardy as to come ashore with these desperadoes, the least I could do was to overhear them at their councils, and that my plain and obvious duty was to draw as close as I could manage, under the favourable ambush of the crouching trees.' After making a bad decision, Jim's sense of duty kicks in. He feels obligated to find out as much information as possible to help Trelawney, Smollett, and the others that are still on the ship.

When a battle breaks out between the two groups, one of the loyal crew members, Tom Redruth, is shot and killed. Smollett reassures Trelawney, 'All's well with him; no fear for a hand that's been shot down in his duty to captain and owner.' In Smollett's mind, following through with your duties is a guarantee of a peaceful afterlife.

Smollett's crew takes shelter in a stockade on the island with Smollett assigning each man a duty. After an unsuccessful negotiation with the leader of the pirates, Long John Silver, Smollett realizes that a major battle will soon be underway. When he looks around, he discovers that all except one of his men, Gray, have left their assigned post. The captain furiously says, 'Gray…I'll put your name in the log; you've stood by your duty like a seaman. Mr. Trelawney, I'm surprised at you, sir. Doctor, I thought you had worn the king's coat! If that was how you served at Fontenoy, sir, you'd have been better in your berth.' Taking responsibility for assigned posts has become a life-or-death situation. Those who have been leaders up until now have a hard time learning to follow.

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