Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Scottish Highlands

*Scottish Highlands. Mountainous region of northern Scotland that is the scene of many adventures of young David Balfour, who finds the Highlands a wild, frightening, demanding, and alien environment. However, with the help of Highlander Alan Breck Stewart, he learns to survive there and to understand himself in doing so. There, he learns what it means to be Scottish. His own upbringing in the Scottish Lowlands has made him ambitious, thrifty, careful, and a little selfish. In the Highlands, he encounters heroism, romance, honor, tragedy, and loyalty. The Highlands thus represent aspects of Scotland and of David himself which, after David’s adventures with Alan Breck Stewart, he cannot ignore or forget.

House of Shaws

House of Shaws. Balfour family estate that is David’s birthright but which at the beginning of the novel is in the possession of David’s wicked uncle, Ebenezer Balfour. The House of Shaws is a dark, forbidding, dangerous, and mysterious place. Its decayed and incomplete state reflects the grim family history and blighted lives of the Balfours. Its darkness and dangers mirror the evils of Ebenezer Balfour. David’s retaking possession of Shaws at the end of the novel signals his achievement of maturity and the beginning of a much brighter future for both the Shaws and the Balfour family.


Covenant. Ship captained by Elias Hoseason on which David Balfour is carried away after being kidnapped on his uncle’s orders. The ship’s name evokes Scottish religious tradition, but for David the Covenant is merely a small and dangerous place in which he learns quickly about the concentrated wickedness, violence, treachery, and brutality of men and the ruthlessness of wind and sea. In the miniature world of the Covenant he also finds occasional kindness and the heroic fighting abilities of the Jacobite adventurer Alan Breck Stewart.

*Scottish Lowlands


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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story takes place in Scotland and the waters around it in the summer of 1751. David's travels take him over much of the Scottish...

(The entire section is 227 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The main device in Kidnapped is that David Balfour narrates the entire text. The reader knows only what he knows and tends to believe what...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

While Treasure Island benefits from being told mostly in the voice of the bright and observant young Jim Hawkins, it suffers from the...

(The entire section is 348 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

From a historical point of view, one of the chief conflicts in Kidnapped is that David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart are from different...

(The entire section is 293 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Since this book has been dramatized a number of times, it might be rewarding to view some of the available versions in order to determine how...

(The entire section is 314 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Readers have noticed Stevenson's fascination with duplicity. In what ways do various forms of duplicity play a large part in the novel?...

(The entire section is 314 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Although Stevenson considered Kidnapped his best novel, some critics prefer David Balfour. Is the sequel a better literary...

(The entire section is 192 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The bildungsroman, a genre of novel about the development from youth and innocence to age and experience has an old tradition in world...

(The entire section is 93 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

David Balfour tells the story of Alan's escape, an attempt to save Alan's cousin from execution as the murderer of Colin Campbell, and...

(The entire section is 90 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Allen, Walter. The English Novel. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958. A general history of the English novel, with a brief section placing...

(The entire section is 302 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Calder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Claims that Stevenson could not have written Kidnapped or Treasure Island if he had not had the life experiences he had. Discusses the characters of David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart and concludes that the novel’s success rests on the credibility of Balfour’s character.

Calder, Jenni. Stevenson and Victorian Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981. Includes a number of articles that refer to Kidnapped. Christopher Harvie’s “The Politics of Stevenson” examines settings in Stevenson’s novels and his development of a rich Scottish dialogue, as well as the role that Scottish politics play in Kidnapped. W. W. Robson, in “On Kidnapped,” analyzes the way the vernacular and character interaction are affected by the intersection of time and place.

Stewart, Ralph. “The Unity of Kidnapped.” Victorian Newsletter 64 (Fall, 1983): 30-31. Discusses how the setting in the Scottish Highlands advances the adventure plot and examines historic sources that inspired Stevenson.

Zharen, W. M. von. “Kidnapped: Improved Hodgepodge?” In Children’s Novels and the Movies, edited by Douglas Street. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Compares Kidnapped to motion picture productions of the novel and considers the reason behind changes made to the story. Discusses the reasons for the novel’s appeal to children.