Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
David Balfour, a boy in his late teens who has recently become an orphan. Having been left, as his inheritance, a letter of introduction addressed to his uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, David decides to leave his home in Essendean in the hope that he can establish some type of relationship with his father’s brother. David begins his journey with confident expectations and is somewhat taken aback when he finds that his uncle’s home is in a general state of disrepair and that Ebenezer himself does not seem happy to see him. Nevertheless, David, as is his nature, soon recovers his optimistic outlook. He resolves to make the best of the situation. A short time after David’s arrival at the House of Shaws, Ebenezer convinces him to join him in taking a trip to Queensferry, near the coast. It is there that David is taken aboard a ship called the Covenant. Once on deck, David quickly realizes that his uncle has abandoned him and that he has been kidnapped. When the Covenant strikes reefs along the coast, the ship sinks and David finds himself alone on a small island. In a state of despair, David nearly abandons his efforts to reach the mainland. His thoughts confused by frustration and anger, he fails to realize that he can leave the island easily at low tide. Finally, David recovers and is able to escape this predicament. He begins his return journey to the House of Shaws knowing that he must cross the wild...
(The entire section is 678 words.)
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Themes and Characters
In Kidnapped, more than in most romances, the characters personify the themes. The hero, David Balfour, illuminates the theme of a young man's coming of age. David begins his adventures as a boy of seventeen and ends them as a man. During his several months away from home, he learns a tremendous amount about human nature, the perils of the sea and the open road, and the rewards of courage and steadfastness.
His primary instructor in these and other lessons is the fiery Alan Breck Stewart, his companion for nearly all of the last two-thirds of the text. Alan's complex blend of bravery, vanity, prudence, honesty, and unusual courtesy— he will not, for example, allow anyone to speak with him in Gaelic when David is near, since the lad does not understand the tongue—commands David's respect but also creates some confusion in their relationship.
Alan's sometimes contradictory characteristics point to a popular nineteenth- century theme, one that Stevenson deals with more directly in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the duality of human nature. Thus, Alan is both a kindly friend and a remorseless killer of his enemies. He may be excessively vain, but he is truly "a bonny fighter." Elias Hoseason, the captain of The Covenant, the ship upon which David is kidnapped, emerges as "two men, and [he] left the better one behind as soon as he set foot on board his vessel." David's recognition of this truth is a measure of his increasing...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
While David and Alan are the principal actors in the plot of Kidnapped, there are a number of secondary and tertiary characters who people the ship and the landscape of the story. In accord with Stevenson's penchant for double identity, Captain Hoseason is seen by David as "two men, and [he] left the better one behind as soon as he set foot on board his vessel."
In the Highlands, David encounters a number of colorful men who, despite being, many of them, outlaws, display a high sense of honor and courtesy, Cluny Macpherson, the chief of a band of outlaws, is exceedingly polite and yet addicted to gambling. When a serious duel is about to take place in the home of Duncan Maclaren, the host manages to transform the contest into a competition to see who can play the bagpipes better, Alan or Robert Oig Macgregor — it is typical of Alan's nature that, although he has competed against a person whom he views as a bitter enemy, he admits that Macgregor is after all the superior piper.
The novel is based partly on an actual murder that took place in Scotland, and the inclusion of so many well-developed characters helps the interest in this text to be far beyond what one expects of a "boys' book," which too many readers have judged it to be. One last trait of the Scots that Stevenson understood well and illustrates repeatedly is caution and prudence. Mr. Rankeillor knows very well that one of the persons before him is the outlaw Alan Breck; so, he...
(The entire section is 326 words.)