Kidnapped | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Course Hero. "Kidnapped Study Guide." December 20, 2019. Accessed September 29, 2023.


Course Hero, "Kidnapped Study Guide," December 20, 2019, accessed September 29, 2023,

Kidnapped | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


In Search of a New Life

David Balfour is a young man who has lived his entire life in the small inland town of Essendean, in the lowlands of Scotland. After David Balfour's father Alexander Balfour passes away, David puts his father's affairs in order and prepares to set out on a journey in search of a new life. Mr. Campbell, the local minister, catches David as he is leaving. Mr. Campbell gives David a letter of introduction to the house of Shaws, with whom, David learns, he shares some blood relation. David decides that he will start his journey by going to the house of Shaws, hoping that one of his relations might help him secure a position of employment.

When David arrives at the house, he learns that he has an uncle, Ebenezer Balfour, who runs the house of Shaws. Ebenezer welcomes David into his house and promises that they will come to an agreement about David's inheritance. After some disagreements and David's growing suspicion that his uncle is cheating him out of something, Ebenezer eventually gives David a small amount of money. David triumphs over his uncle's attempt to trick him into falling to his death on the house's unfinished tower stairs. Still, shortly thereafter, Ebenezer tricks David into going into the village where David learns that his father was the elder brother, making David the rightful heir to the land and income of the house of Shaws. Before he can get to the lawyer, Mr. Rankeillor, Ebenezer tricks David onto a ship named the Covenant. The ship is captained by Ebenezer's associate, Captain Elias Hoseason, whom Ebenezer has paid to kidnap David.

Life Aboard Ship

After several weeks aboard the Covenant, David is shocked by the murder of the cabin boy Ransome by the cruel first mate Mr. Shuan. Soon after, the ship accidentally rams a small boat and takes aboard its only survivor, Alan Breck. David assesses Alan as an honorable man who would be dangerous to cross and, overhearing the captain's plans to rob Alan, warns the stranger of the impending attack. Considering the crew and the captain cruel kidnappers and the remorseless murderers of Ransome, David sides with Alan as they hold the roundhouse (the round building with the officers's bunks at the front of the boat) against the crew. After two attacks and the deaths of five men, the captain strikes a deal with Alan; Alan will pay the captain to drop him on the coast of territory friendly to him.

Adventures on Land

Before they reach this territory, the ship runs against a reef and sinks. David is hit by a wave and carried onto an islet off the coast while the others come ashore in a small boat. David spends four days on the islet, but when he leaves, he finds that Alan has left word for him to follow him to the house of a kinsman in Aucharn. David sets off on the journey, meeting a variety of adventures along the way. When he is nearing Aucharn, he asks direction from a man who turns out to be the Red Fox, a regional factor (property manager) appointed by the king to control the territory and whose clan considers Alan's enemies. As they are still speaking, someone shoots the Red Fox and kills him.

David runs after the murderer but quickly finds that the soldiers are chasing him, thinking that he was an accomplice. Suddenly David hears Alan's voice from the brush. Alan had reached Aucharn already and had come back out on a fishing trip. David and Alan flee from the soldiers together, with Alan sticking his head up to draw the soldiers away from the real murderer. Alan leads David to Aucharn, where news of the murder has already reached his kinsman James Stewart, who fears that the family of the Red Fox, the Campbells, will retaliate against the Stewarts.

On the Run

Alan and David quickly escape "into the heather," meaning that they hide in the wilderness and try to move south toward Alan's home. The two travel through every type of terrain and a wide range of difficulties, making their way on Alan's intuition and reputation. David becomes ill from the weather, and they pause for a month in Balquhidder while he recovers. Finally, the two men make it to Queen's Ferry, where David seeks out Mr. Rankeillor.

Mr. Rankeillor has already learned of David's disappearance from the minister Mr. Campbell, who worried when he received no letters from the young man. Mr. Rankeillor listens to David's story, making sure to avoid learning about any illegal activities or help David might have received from outlaws. David proposes a plan to make his uncle admit to the kidnapping and force him to hand over the inheritance to David. Mr. Rankeillor agrees to the plan, and David engages the assistance of Alan, who (as an outlaw) had remained hidden outside the town.

Justice Achieved

Mr. Rankeillor, David, and Mr. Rankeillor's secretary—who will serve as a witness if needed—hide within hearing of Ebenezer's front door. Alan approaches the door alone, claiming to be a highlander whose friends have imprisoned David. When Ebenezer rejects Alan's request for ransom for the boy, Alan pretends to have been expecting that response. He offers instead to kill David or keep him imprisoned. Eventually, Ebenezer agrees that he will pay the highlander to keep him, and as they agree on the price, Alan tricks Ebenezer into admitting how much he paid Captain Hoseason to kidnap David.

Mr. Rankeillor reveals himself and the others, convincing Ebenezer to agree to a deal to keep the case out of the courts. David will receive two-thirds of the income from the estate and will inherit all of it upon the death of Ebenezer. With his problems resolved, David turns his attention to helping Alan escape into France while also planning to return to Scotland to help free Alan's kinsman, James Stewart, who has been falsely imprisoned for participating in the murder of the Red Fox. David and Alan part ways near Edinburgh, where David goes to secure funds for his next adventures and Alan returns to hiding, waiting for David to arrange his passage to France.

Kidnapped Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 David decides to seek out his family at the house of Shaws.

Rising Action

2 David's uncle tries to set up an accidental death for David.

3 The captain of the ship, the Covenant, kidnaps David.

4 The ship runs down a smaller boat and rescues Alan.

5 Alan and David win a fight against the captain and crew.

6 The Covenant sinks trying to return Alan to his homeland.

7 Separated by the sinking, David searches for Alan.

8 David and Alan witness the murder of the Red Fox.

9 David and Alan flee soldiers hunting them for the murder.

10 Overcoming dangers, David and Alan reach Queen's Ferry.


11 David convinces Mr. Rankeillor that his uncle wronged him.

Falling Action

12 David learns that his father and uncle fought over a woman.

13 Alan tricks David's uncle into confessing to the kidnapping.

14 David's uncle recognizes David's right to his inheritance.


15 David sets out to help Alan and others who helped him.

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