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Kidnapped | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Kidnapped | Symbols


The Death of Ransome

The death of Ransome, the cabin boy on the Covenant, marks a turning point in David's perception of the crew aboard the Covenant. David pities Ransome for his difficult life and the lack of experience that makes the boy accept his conditions as a good life. Ransome has no role models other than the men on the ship, men like Mr. Shuan, the excellent navigator who frequently beats Ransome. For David, Ransome is an innocent boy corrupted by the criminal and cruel men who surround him. When Mr. Shuan beats Ransome to death, David sees it as a tragedy. The captain insists that it be covered up as an accidental drowning. Mr. Shuan does not seem to remember it at all. David sees Mr. Shuan as a murderer and considers the rest of the crew to be murderers as well for being complicit in the abuse, murder, and cover-up.

Whereas David previously thought that he could reason with the crew and earn his freedom, Ransome's death convinces David that the crewmembers are unjust, evil men. This shift in perspective allows David to set himself against these men in a life-and-death fight alongside Alan. He knows that he might be forced to kill some of the men, but their death is now justifiable. These men have kidnapped David, murdered Ransome, and now plot to rob and possibly murder Alan. They are irredeemable in David's eyes, and he is convinced that he is on the righteous side of the fight, even if murdering someone is certainly wrong by Christian standards.

The Silver Button

The silver button that Alan gives David after the battle in the roundhouse is symbolic of the newly formed bond between the two men. As Alan carefully cleans his coat, he mars its perfection by cutting off one of its silver buttons. These silver buttons are important to the coat, which Alan uses to present himself as an experienced soldier with specific allegiances, but they are also important to Alan personally. The buttons once belonged to his father, and Alan knows that they are recognizable to those who know him or his father. Their value lies in their connection to Alan, although David does not understand this fact immediately.

Alan gives David this piece of himself in partial payment for the debt he owes to David, who has just saved his life by telling him the captain's plans and agreeing to fight with him. David accepts the gift, without realizing the depth of the bond it creates. As David travels through the highlands, however, he comes to learn that the button bears with it the reputation of the man who owned it. While David has the silver button, he is treated as a friend of Alan Breck, which is the same as being treated like Alan Breck himself. David receives aid where he needs it. Even when he is together with Alan, the button has the power to secure help on their behalf: Alan uses it to identify himself when he leaves a signal for John Breck. As the button symbolizes the bond between Alan and David, it effectively adopts David into the allegiance and fidelity of the clan and family of Alan Breck.

The Lass Who Rows the Boat

The lass (girl) who rows the boat carrying David and Alan across the Firth of Forth (the large, flat body of water where the River Forth empties into the sea) is kind, wholesome, and honest. She takes pity on David, a young man in need of aid, and helps him for no personal gain. She represents the kind of goodness that David originally believed he would find when he first sought out his relatives in the house of Shaws.

When Alan and David meet her, they are nearing the end of their journey but must cross the River Forth in order to reach Queen's Ferry and Mr. Rankeillor. They cannot cross at the bridge due to the presence of a sentry. They cannot swim across. They cannot pay someone to take them across in a boat because they do not have the money. Getting the girl they meet in a pub to take pity on them is their last chance. Alan creates a fake backstory, claiming that David is a young aristocratic Jacobite whose life is in danger. The girl is concerned, but she does not agree to help them across the firth until David tells her something true: he is going to see Mr. Rankeillor for his help. This last piece of information is true, and it connects David to an honorable man. It is honesty and honor that convince the young woman to help Alan and David.

When she arrives alone in a rowboat that she has stolen for the outing, the two men are amazed by her. She trusts them so fully and honestly that in fear of putting them in jeopardy, she has not told another soul about them. Doing so, she put herself in danger if Alan and David had meant her harm. David's honesty with her is rewarded with honesty and genuine care, and with her act, David's faith in the goodness of people is restored at the very end of a journey plagued by misadventures with devious men.

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