Friday, December 19, 2014

A Little Side Character Comparison: Jim Hawkins and Harvey Cheyne Jr.

When setting out to write a character comparison of the fictional captains in nautical fiction, one of the first books that came to mind, by virtue of its title alone, was Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. The book isn’t about a Crazy Captain, however, as much as it is about the Boy Coming of Age at Sea. The protagonist is Harvey Cheyne, Jr., a spoiled teenaged son of rich socialites. When he’s saved from drowning by the We’re Here, he’s forced to become part of the crew until the next time they come into port.  His experiences give him the opportunity to get past his sense of entitlement and pride in his possessions, and to mature into true self-confidence so that by the time he actually makes it home, his parents don’t recognize the overindulged and petty son he used to be.

Both Captains Courageous and Treasure Island have an environment of seafaring, and both have young protagonists who come of age in that environment. The captain of the We’re Here, Disko Troop, doesn’t have much in common with Long John Silver—unless it’s the fact that both have unusual names. 

But as I said, the main comparison to be made is between Jim Hawkins and Harvey Cheyne Jr. The two protagonists are both young boys with a lot to learn. Jim longed for and sought adventure, whereas Harvey was happy and complacent with his life of luxury, and was (almost literally) thrown into adventure kicking and screaming. 

Throughout the course of the Treasure Island, Jim becomes somewhat disillusioned with adventure for its own sake, and matures to the point where his admiration for Silver is transferred to more honorable adults. It always seemed to me that the last scene, where Jim allows Silver to escape, is a symbol of how far Jim has come in his understanding of friendship and mercy. It’s almost as if the roles are reversed, and Jim is more mature than Silver. 

Harvey’s experience is the inverse of Jim’s. He starts out not wanting adventure, just wanting to get back to his cush life and upperclass family and friends. Throughout Captains Courageous he matures into someone who values himself on his individual merit more than where he comes from. 

Maybe the reason for the two different experiences—Jim becoming disillusioned with adventure, Harvey coming to see its value—is because both boys start out with a faulty concept of what “adventure” means. Jim sees it as just an adrenaline rush, an opportunity for glory. He understands it how most of us probably understand adventure: from the point of view of a reader enjoying a good swashbuckling book. Harvey sees it as an inconvenience, pulling him out of his comfort zone and forcing him to reevaluate his identity. What “adventure” really is—in these novels, anyway—is partly both, but also includes another factor: it includes wisdom. Experience, maturity, self-knowledge, all the things that both Jim and Harvey acquire, can be whittled down to that one concept of Wisdom.  

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