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Kidnapped | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Kidnapped | Themes


The Meaning of Honorability

From the beginning to the end of the novel, David Balfour becomes a man and, in particular, an honorable man. When he begins his journey, David is young and adventurous, seeking out a new life after the death of his father. His adventures teach him a great deal about the ways of the world, and David transforms from a trusting teenager into an experienced and cautious man. From his interactions with his uncle, Captain Hoseason, and some of the criminals and cheats he meets along highland roads, he learns to carefully evaluate which men and women he can trust. He learns the meaning of loyalty and family connections as he experiences their benefits through his connection to Alan. Many of his core principles are challenged throughout the book; some are proven to be misguided, while others are reinforced. For example, his confrontations with a blind catechist—a teacher of the Christian faith—who thought to rob him shows him that not all religious men are trustworthy. On the other hand, the insult to everyone's pride that occurred when Alan lost David's money in a card game with a highland clan chief strengthened David's aversion to gambling as a dishonor to everyone who plays, both winners and losers.

As David learns throughout the book, there are no clear guidelines for what makes an honorable man. David is against murder, but he kills some men from the Covenant's crew. Even if they were complicit in murder, he is as well. David believes that James Stewart's desire to distribute wanted fliers with a reward for his kinsman's capture is betrayal, until he realizes that it is a compromise in a difficult situation. Distributing the flier likely will not increase the chances that David and Alan are captured. By contrast, not distributing it would definitely increase the chances that James's family would suffer retaliation from the English soldiers. Therefore, the best compromise is to allow James to distribute the flier, helping his family a lot while not hurting David and Alan that much. Mr. Rankeillor is perhaps the clearest example of how honorable men sometimes need to operate outside the law and traditional justice. As a lawyer, he is required to report illegal activities and knowledge of outlaws. However, he sees Alan as an honorable man, so Mr. Rankeillor pretends not to know who Alan truly is. In this novel doing what is right and just is a choice that each man must make for himself.


Loyalty among friends, clans, and family members is the primary force that aids David throughout the novel. While greed motivates his uncle and Captain Hoseason, David escapes their plot by building strong relationships. In particular he builds a strong relationship with Alan as he helps to save Alan's life and the two fight off the crew members together. Alan recognizes that he owes David his life, and he gives David one of his buttons as a token of the strong bond forged between them. Alan's gift to David is capable of activating the wide range of relationships that Alan possesses, making them work on David's behalf even if Alan is not present. Alan's relationships span the breadth of the highlands, including kinsman, clansmen, and close friends of both.

When Alan first hands David the button, David does not realize how important these relationships will be in the near future. Alan's connections help David find Alan and provide them both with money, shelter, and a means of communication. They protect the pair from ambushes, and his reputation secures them a home for the month that David is sick in Balquhidder. Alan's connections have one disadvantage: The strong loyalties to family and clan require him to declare as an enemy anyone who is (or is related to) an enemy of his family or clan. His family's feud with the Campbells and the Macgregors nearly lands Alan and David in difficulty more than once, even though David has no personal enmity for either group.

David, in fact, has a personal connection with Mr. Campbell, who is the minister in his hometown of Essendean. The loyalty that Mr. Campbell and David feel for one another plays an important role in the narrative as well. David receives significant aid from a kind catechist he meets on the road to Torosay, in part because the man knows Mr. Campbell. In addition, while David is away, Mr. Campbell initiates the investigation into his disappearance, enlisting the aid of Mr. Rankeillor when the minister does not receive letters from David. Mr. Campbell's actions make Mr. Rankeillor a welcoming audience for David's tale when he returns to Queen's Ferry.

Forms of Christianity

Kidnapped takes place in a time when the "true" form of Christianity was contested across England, and it features characters whose religious and political allegiances lie on opposite sides of the conflict. Alan is a Jacobite: a member of the 1745 rebellion that sought to return a Catholic king to the throne of England. David has been raised a Protestant—a sect of Christianity that rejects the authority of the pope as an intermediary between people and the Christian God—and is a loyal subject of the current king, George I. Alan frequently throws insults at David for being a "Whig," a supporter of the Protestant monarchy. David frequently tells Alan that certain things are or are not what a good Christian should do. For example, David tells Alan that he is not "very wise nor very Christian" to speak so many angry words about the Red Fox. David also strongly believes that playing cards is not a Christian thing to do, while Alan cannot stop playing. The two men represent contrasting versions of what it means to be a Christian in their time period, with Alan's principles challenging David's and forcing the younger man to reckon with new and sometimes shocking opinions.

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