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Robert Louis Stevenson

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

David Balfour

David's primary function in Kidnapped is to serve as a way for young boys—Stevenson's intended audience—to see someone like themselves going through great adventures. David is young and inexperienced, and so everything he describes everything he sees with unfamiliar eyes, just as his readers would.

The basic plot of Kidnapped follows David's growth from a naïve young boy to a heroic, experienced man. Through his association with Alan Breck, David learns much about the "real world," living in difficult conditions, and justice. By the end of the novel, he is able to outwit his own scheming uncle, and claims his inheritance. His adventure is a kind of rite-of-passage. When it is over, he has become a much wiser and mature person.

David, the Protestant Whig, is also an excellent character to interact with the Highland Jacobite, Alan Breck. By making David a Lowland boy, Stevenson is able to examine the clans of Scotland from a more curious and unfamiliar eye. Many of Stevenson's readers may have had a negative opinion of the Highlanders. David does too, at first, but by the end of the book he has come to understand and respect them. Since Kidnapped is, in many ways, a paean to the Scottish Highland way of life that was quickly vanishing, if not gone, by Stevenson's time.

Alan Breck Stewart

Alan Breck Stewart is the archetypal "dashing rogue." He is an excellent swordsman, marksman, and guide; he can find his way through the Scottish highlands while avoiding enemy soldiers hunting for him. However, like many such rogues, he is also a braggart, commenting on his skills to anyone who will listen. He is quick to take offense, but also quick to forgive.

He is also fiercely loyal to his clan, the Stewarts, and his country—the Highlands of Scotland. He defines himself by his clan and his Catholic faith. He is a Jacobite, and believes that the Scottish Stuarts should are the true kings of England.

Unlike David, Alan does not change significantly in the course of Kidnapped. His primary role is to serve as a kind of guide to David, both through the wilds of Scotland and through the trials of becoming a man. He teaches David how to survive in the wilderness, how to survive a battle, and he also shows David some of the ins and outs of politics, particularly clan politics. David, for his part, gains Alan's respect, though David is a Whig and a Protestant.

Alan Breck is the most interesting character in Kidnapped, and the one who most contributes to its adventurous nature. From his first appearance, where he causes the battle of the Round-House, to the last escape across the river in Queensferry, Alan remains an entertaining and essential aspect of the book.

Ebenezer Balfour

Ebenezer is the closest thing to a "villain" in Kidnapped, although he is visible on for a few chapters. Though younger than David's father, he looks much older. Though rich, he is so miserly that he allows the House of Shaws to deteriorate into squalor. He is so greedy, he schemes to have his nephew kidnapped or killed so that his fortune, and his peace of mind, can be maintained. After the agreement with David's father Alexander, where Alexander married David's mother and Ebenezer kept the House of Shaws, Alexander left the House. His sudden disappearance led to rumors that Ebenezer had killed him, and made the once-popular Ebenezer an outcast in the community. The longer he lives alone, the more wretched Ebenezer becomes, and presumably the more hatred he harbors for his absent brother. He probably also grew to hate himself somewhat, for causing his brother's banishment. All of this creates the tortured soul that is Ebenezer Balfour.

It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for Ebenezer. He is such an old, beaten man—and he is so soundly defeated at the end of the novel—that there is a note of tragedy in the character. Unfortunately, he never does anything to redeem himself, and his suffering must go on for the foreseeable future.

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Vengeance or Loyalty? It depends on your point of view!

by English-Lit-Major, August 20, 2013

"To them, vengeance is a code of ethics that is acceptable."

This seems all wrong to me!

Stevenson takes a very sympathetic approach with the Highlanders. He wants us to LIKE them. He would not have considered vengeance an acceptable code of ethics, so he would not have meant for us to view the Highlanders as a vengeful people. There is something missing in this Sparknotes interpretation.

Considering the historical context, we know the Highlanders considered the English Whigs to be USURPERS. Therefore, they did not v... Read more


18 out of 24 people found this helpful

Typo found!

by TriggerLoft, June 06, 2016

"Scottish Stuarts should are the true kings of England" Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think there should be a "should" between "Stuarts" and "are"