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What defines loyalty? Loyalty to a friend, to a family, or simply to oneself? The analysis of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Long John Silver from Treasure Island is complex and interesting, yet in some ways ultimately subjective. Silver displays many charismatic and leadership-oriented traits, keeping a constant commitment to his own plans, but does that make him faithful? Can a person hold shoddy intentions, yet still be loyal? It is hard to interpret this dilemma, as we automatically associate faithfulness with positive purpose, but that is not always the case. Loyalty to a cause is a very important theme in Treasure Island when analyzing the mutineers versus the honest men, but Silver was merely loyal to himself. Long John Silver’s constant determination in his goals to obtain treasure never once falters until he ultimately achieves his goal, proving loyalty to his own mindset.
Despite Long John Silver’s suspicious intentions, his greed constantly keeps him committed to his plans. It is easy to recall how successfully Long John Silver masks his true identity for days, until Jim accidentally hears the pirates expressing their rebellious plans for mutiny. Until then, Silver had Jim, Dr. Livesey, and the Squire fooled. Jim recalls, “It was Silver’s voice, and before I had heard a dozen words, I would not have shown myself for all the world, but lay there, trembling and listening, in the extreme of fear and curiosity, for, in those dozen words, I understood that the lives of all the honest men aboard depended on me alone” (Stevenson 99). The mutineer-leader could even control a group of unlawful pirates for weeks. What is he so passionate towards that could motivate these actions? He is committed to his own selfishness. Silver will kill innocent, honest men, such as Tom Redruth, seeming to express no culpability or sorrow even when committing intensely violent and immoral crimes; thus, he shows how focused he is on his aims. This mutineer must have some essential need for this treasure, or rather, he may just have an immeasurable sense of greed, as displayed in his ability to measure his own wealth over another’s life. Long John Silver has the same plans, to obtain riches, from the start of the quest to the end. Even near to the book’s ending, when Silver is supposedly on the honest men’s side, he abandons his honor to steal a portion of the jewels, never to be seen or heard of again. Though Long John Silver’s determination is put toward accomplishing precarious plans, it is consistently present.
There are few scenarios in which relationships get in the way of Long John Silver’s ultimate plans. The pirate once said, “I like that boy, now; I never seen a better boy than that. He’s more a man than any pair of rats of you in this here house” (Stevenson 266.) This is how Silver describes Jim, a mere teenager, though more manly than any of the mutineers. This fondness appears to be genuine, though it doesn’t stop Long John Silver from his inevitable commitment. He will hurt Jim emotionally, but never physically. Though Long John Silver’s fondness for Jim seems legitimate, he never lets it get in the way of his narrow, one-way path.
Feeling such an immensely strong responsibility to win the treasure, the only thing that Long John ever puts in higher regard is his own survival. “Dooty is dooty” (Stevenson 79 and 185) is one Silver’s personal mantras, saying that whatever is your responsibility is your duty, and you must see to it under any circumstance; your job must be carried through. It does not matter what extents you must travel to in order to complete this goal, because success is adamant. The only exception to this philosophy occurs whenever Silver’s own life is at risk, yet another tribute to his utter selfishness, caring only about his life and his wealth. “So you’ve changed sides again” (Stevenson 312) are words which escape Jim Hawkins’s mouth after Silver yet again switches from the mutineers to the honest men. He does so to ensure his own safety. There is no description of Silver as gracious rather than greedy; such a characteristic would disrupt the entire plot. Long John Silver’s self-sustenance does not only drive his character’s personal motivation, but also the entire storyline. If Silver did not have such a present sense of rapacity, he would not have another motivator strong enough to push him to deceit and murder. It is quite evident that greed is an essential ingredient to Long John Silver’s success, though this isn’t the case with everything in life.
Loyalty is not only subjective, but relative. When determining loyalty, one must analyze this quality from many viewpoints (ethically, socially, and to whom). In doing so, one could consider Long John Silver a character loyal to himself. Maybe he isn’t loyal to his peers or fellow mutineers, but that is all comparative. What is it that promotes Long John Silver’s loyalty to his mindset? It is his is very own greed, the main ingredient of Silver’s ultimate success in stealing treasure. Ultimately, it is proven true that greed and a pre-determined mindset can be undeniable factors in success.
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