Characters Discussed

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David Balfour

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 Highlands of Scotland and reclaim his kinship as well as his inheritance.

Ebenezer Balfour, Esquire, of Shaws

Ebenezer Balfour, Esquire, of Shaws, David’s uncle, an older man who inhabits the House of Shaws. He is a small, ugly man with a shabby appearance. Ebenezer has a poor reputation throughout the community and generally is considered to be cruel and untrustworthy. He arranges his nephew’s kidnapping in an effort to keep David’s portion of the family inheritance for himself.

Elias Hoseason

Elias Hoseason, captain of the Covenant. He assists Ebenezer in the kidnapping of David. Hoseason is a large and powerfully built man who runs his ship with a firm hand. He often overlooks cruelty, and he seems to value the Covenant even more than the lives of his sailors.

Alan Breck Stewart

Alan Breck Stewart, also called Mr. Thomson (a name given to him to protect his identity), a Scottish Highlander completely devoted to the people of his clan. Alan befriends David as a result of a mishap that occurs while the two are aboard the Covenant. He is a colorful character with an interesting past and an unusual sense of justice. As a deserter from the English Army, a soldier in the French Army, and a Jacobite, Alan has much to lose by guiding David on his journey through Scotland. His commitment to their friendship leads him to the conclusion that he must see David through his adventure.

Mr. Rankeillor

Mr. Rankeillor, a lawyer in the town of Queensferry. He is a well-known and respected member of the community. Mr. Rankeillor is familiar with the arrangement between Ebenezer Balfour and Alexander Balfour, David’s father. He is particularly interested in David’s case. He explains the fine points, as he recalls them, to David and helps him claim his inheritance.

Mr. Campbell

Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, a good friend of David. He is a kindly older man who gives David advice regarding his future. He encourages David to introduce himself to his Uncle Ebenezer Balfour and gives him the letter from his father...

(This entire section contains 678 words.)

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with which he can claim his kinship as well as his inheritance.

Mr. Riach

Mr. Riach, the second officer aboard the Covenant. He is a small man, in his late twenties or early thirties, who takes it upon himself to look after David while he is aboard the ship. Given to drink, he is unstable in his thinking. When a dispute arises, he ultimately shows loyalty to Captain Hoseason rather than to David.

Themes and Characters

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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 insight.

David also seems occasionally divided. He is often of two minds, as when he wishes himself free of the desperate Alan's company but is too loyal and grateful to say so. The reader can perceive David's faults and yet cannot fail to admire him for his spirit and good will. When compared with heroes in other romance novels, David defies stereotypes. Despite the fact that he is fairly large, strong, and vigorous, David is not a skilled fighter; when Alan tries to instruct him in swordsmanship, he finds David an ungifted student. David's cleverness, in which he often takes a very human and unsubstantiated pride, rises to no high levels.

Of the minor characters such as the unhappy cabin boy Ransome, David's wicked uncle Ebenezer Balfour, and the honest and cautious lawyer Mr. Rankeillor, the most colorful is Cluny Macpherson, the chief of an outlawed clan. Macpherson's marked forms of politeness and his addiction to gambling make him an eccentric, interesting addition to the story.

All in all, the cast of characters—from the sailors on The Covenant to the gillies in the Highlands—are a mixed lot. Few female characters appear, but the charming tavern owner's daughter who aids David and Alan near the end of the story proves that Stevenson could create appealing women in his fiction. Perhaps the quintessential moral illustrated by all these people and their adventures is that one should never give up on a worthy cause, whether it be one's belief in personal freedom or simply, as in David's case, the desire to obtain one's birthright.


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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 cleverly accepts "Mr. Thomson" for the person he claims to be and remarks that "I have forgotten my glasses" and thus cannot be sure that he would recognize Thomson again. It is typical of Alan's pride that he is not pleased and that his vanity is a bit wounded. All in all, these people are very true to life, especially for that time and place.