Short Essay Questions on Treasure Island for Teachers to Use

Character and Point of View

These short essay questions on Treasure Island all deal with specific character decisions and narrative point of view. Before giving these to your class, be sure to discuss the meaning of point of view, as well as the ways that authors use point of view to affect the way their story comes across to readers. You’ll also want to discuss round and flat characters, as well as static and dynamic characters.

1. Captain Smollett and Long John Silver are almost complete opposites when it comes to leading a ship. Compare and contrast their notion of right and wrong, based on the way they lead their ships.

Note: It may be helpful for the students to use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the men’s leadership styles, including personality traits and specific actions in the story. After they’ve made the diagram, they’re ready to move into organization of the essay.

2. It’s interesting that Robert Louis Stevenson chose a child to tell this story. In what ways would the story be different if one of the adult characters, such as Captain Smollett or Long John Silver, had told the story?

Note: Ask your students to think about the ways in which Jim sees the world differently than the older sailors do. That difference will be a good springboard to get them writing.

3. Why do you think that Stevenson has Ben Gunn discover the treasure first — without even the aid of a treasure map? Why does Stevenson turn the typical pirate story line upside down to render this ending?

Note: Ask your students whether Ben Gunn is happy with all of his riches. If they say that he is unhappy, ask them what has made him that way. This will point them in the direction of an effective response.

4. Would you describe Long John Silver as a flat or round character? Why?

Note: Long John Silver may be a villain, but he’s a lot more than a villain. In the novel, Stevenson goes to great pains to paint him as an almost sympathetic creature, instead of another skull-and-crossbones buccaneer. This would seem to give him more than one "side," making him round.

Church and Government

These short essay questions on Treasure Island all focus on rhetorical arguments that Stevenson makes about political and religious institutions through his story. Before presenting these questions, ask your students about the way in which the church appears in the novel, and comments that appear about the government throughout.

1. It is interesting how many times flags show up in Treasure Island. Why do you think this is? What is the purpose of all of the flags?

Note: Remember — Treasure Island is not on the list of potential British colonies; in fact, we never know the proper name of Treasure Island — the one that would have appeared on a real map from this time period. Ask your students what the true meaning of flags is to them.

2. What is the role of religion in the lives of these seamen? Refer to both public and private acts of piety and worship in your answer.

Note: These are some hardened characters. In what way might religion be seen as a weakness unless events bring up a true need? Have students ponder that idea before answering the question.

3. In the 2010’s, pirates have returned to the world, as the coast of Somalia has been a dangerous place for cruise ships and other vessels. Do some research and find out why these pirates are striking ships. Then, research the factors behind what has been called piracy’s “Golden Age,” from 1715-1725. What drove these people to piracy back in the 1700s? How are the reasons similar to or different than the rationale behind piracy today?

Note: If you put together a webquest ahead of time for your kids, this will be significantly less time-consuming and will result in some cool projects. It comes in handy around evaluation time!