Kidnapped Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20

Chapter 16 Summary:

David took a ferry from Torosay to Kinlochaline. The boat's skipper had the last name of Macrob which he recognized as one of Alan's clan. David hoped to get a word with him but the crowds on the boat did not allow it. The trip was tedious but the good natured passengers sang in Gaelic to pass the time. As they neared the shore, David noted a ship filled with people in black crying out in mourning. It was an emigrant ship headed for America and the passengers on board David's ship either empathized or recognized the emigrants and wailed with them. Finally they disembarked and David spoke with Neil Roy Macrob. He asked for information on Alan Breck, offering money. Macrob was deeply offended. David then showed him Alan's silver button which Macrob recognized. He chastised David for not showing this first and grudgingly gave him Alan's instructions. David was given a route which led from the inn at Kinlochaline to Morven to Ardgour across lochs and finally to the house of James Stewart of Appin. Macrob warned him to speak with no one.

The night spent at the local inn was miserable as the place was in much disrepair. David departed the next morning and headed along the route he was given. Along the way, David met another catechist, Henderland, who was a member of the Edinburgh Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Being from the south, the catechist and David got along well and David was pleased to hear his own language. Henderland seemed to be welcomed by the people they passed. David told him much of his story, though changing his destination and leaving out any mention of Alan. Henderland continually asked him if he had snuff. He also spoke to David about the affairs of the Highlands and of the unfairness of many of the laws which Parliament had passed. The catechist noted how stealthy Alan was and how unlikely it was that Red Fox would escape trouble even if he was able to fully disarm and disband the clan of Ardshiel.

Henderland was kind enough to bring David back to his dwelling to sleep and eat. David was surprised by the hypocrisy of the catechist, rushing back to his home for his snuff but preaching to David about humility before God. Still, David found himself deeply moved and tried to think less highly of himself.


The ship of mourners which David and the other ferrygoers approach is a reminder of the fate which David could have easily faced. The ship is full of emigrants being exiled to America. It is a merchandise ship, which leads one to believe that the passengers would not have a much better future to look forward to than David would have had. The air was filled with the sense of melancholy and death, affecting even David who was now removed from this fear. David however moves in the opposite direction from the mourning ship, symbolizing his step move past this obstacle and the new route he has effectively undertaken.

Mr. Henderland was likely created by Stevenson in order to please his father, who was a highly religious Protestant. He was never pleased that David had moved away from religion. Often David attempted to smooth the issue over anyway that he could. He would frequently send his father letters updating his progress and critics have guessed that the character of Henderland the catechist was a direct product of a suggestion that Mr. Stevenson made to his son in a letter that has been uncovered. McFarlan's note includes the following quotation from the letter Robert Louis sent to Thomas Stevenson on January 25, 1886: ³I quite agree with you, and had already planned a scene of religion in [Kidnapped]; the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge furnishes me with a catechist whom I shall try to make the man.² His father had suggested a character like Henderland because there were so few characters who were well-respected, religious Lowlanders in Kidnapped and Stevenson liked to keep his father involved in his work.

Regardless of the reason for Henderland's creation, the reader will immediately be aware of the hypocrisy inherent in his character, as noted by David. The man is so consumed by getting to his snuff that he constantly interrupts David and then runs rudely into his house so that he can have some. David himself mentions that he finds it ironic that the man who is so obviously addicted to snuff has been sent to the Highlands to cultivate the more savage breed of Scots. Ironically, this same man also preaches to David about humility in religion. In contrast, the character of Neil Macrob, a clansman of Alan, is offended by the thought of a bribe and righteously delivers Alan's message out of loyalty to Alan and their relationship. Again, Stevenson highlights his theme of the complexity and duality of man as well as the complexity of Scotland.

Chapter 17 Summary:

The next morning, Henderland arranged for a man who was crossing the Linnhe Loch to Appin to bring David across, thus saving him from two ferry rides. As they reached the shore, David observed some red and metallic colors clashing and asked his host about it. The skipper noted that red coats must be moving into Appin against its residents. Saddened, David soon asked to be let off the boat. On land, David sat in the woods. He wondered why he was risking his life for a rebel like Alan when he could simply turn toward his home. Suddenly, he heard men coming down the trail and decided that he would continue to his destination. The leading man appeared regal, had red hair, and was accompanied by a lawyer, servant, and man of the Sheriff. When they neared, David stepped onto the path and asked for directions to Aucharn. The red haired man, who turned out to be Red Fox/Colin Campbell, asked him why he wished to know and David intelligently explained that he was neither for or against the Highlanders but was loyal to King George. Campbell was not willing to help on this day. While he was speaking, a single shot rang out and hit Red Fox. He dropped to the ground and died. Coming to his senses, David sprang up the hill, yelling after the murderer. He continued to chase him until the murderer disappeared.

Behind David stood the Sheriff's men, who demanded David come to them. He overheard one order the men to grab the boy because he was an accomplice to the murder. David was confounded. Men hiding in the bush reached out for him and helped him hide within. There, he saw Alan Stewart. Alan told David to follow him and they ran quickly through the countryside. Every so often, Alan would stand upright and a roar from the soldiers would follow. Then, Alan signaled for them to turn and they ran back to the spot where David had found him. They ducked down. David was exhausted and fell to Alan's side.


The reader will observe a clear example of David's decision-making, or the lack of active decision-making which takes place on his part. As the critic Kiely finds, ³For all the intrigue, kidnapping, border-crossing, spying, and sword play, David BalfourŠis an impotent hero, and Šis one of the inactive and inept heroes in the noncomic literature of adventure.² For the first time in the novel, David begins to wonder why he is running in search of Alan Breck, a condemned man who rebelled against David's King. Not only is it a dangerous venture, but David had been raised a faithful and religious Whig who was warned by his minister when leaving Essendean to not shame his homeland and faith. Yet, David has aided a wild Highlander Jacobite overthrow a ship of pirates and is now following the messages he leaves in hopes of catching up with him. What will David do when he gets there?

The thematic struggle he faces is best described by critic Edwin Eigner, who writes, ³Š[Kidnapped] depend[s] for suspense and significance on theŠthematic question: Can the boy transcend his conscience and bring himself to accept his despised companion?² Yet David never consciously decides whether he will support or tolerate Alan. We see him worrying about the issue, but his decision is made in the same haphazard and groundless manner the reader noted when David decided to continue to his Uncle's door after hearing what a dreadful man he was. The text states, ³I had no sooner seen these people coming than I made up my mind (for no reason that I can tell) to go through with my adventureŠ² Not only has Stevenson devised a character whose mind is fickle, but he stresses the lack of self-knowledge that David beholds by placing the fact that he has no idea why he has made a choice in parentheses so that the statement is highlighted for the reader. The syntactic structure of the sentence arranges the stress by placing the parentheses directly following the word ³mind² so that an immediate connection can be made by reader between David's mind and his fickleness.

Is his lack of active decision-making a fault? Or is his mental sharpness and maturity meant to be understressed? The critic, Kiely, likes to believe that Stevenson may have wanted to exhibit more profound human and psychological issues in Kidnapped but actually was not able to move away from the simplistic, open-air adventure which he had created in the more childish Treasure Island. Kiely states, ³But if there is a tendency [in Kidnapped] to expand the field [beyond Treasure Island] of adventure and to complicate the action with historical and geographical association, there isŠa stronger tendency to remain in the relatively simple and limited world of child's dream.² Kiely believes that that Stevenson's attempt to deepen the issues involved in Kidnapped was mainly a superficial function. However, other critics such as Eigner, believe the use of doubling and dopplegangers in addition to the similarities in Kidnapped to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, may add more weight than Kiely would have supported. We will further explore these issues as we move along.

Chapter 18 Summary:

Alan woke first and spoke to David. David however refused to lift his head and told him that they must part company. Alan demanded to know why and David explained that he did not wish to be near a man who either participated in or committed a murder. By describing how foolish it would be for Alan to take part in a murder for his safety and his clan's, Alan was able to convince David that he had no part in the crime. He was less successful in answering if he knew the identity of the murderer but David appreciated his skillful avoidance of the question and his loyalty to his own code of morals. David thought Alan immoral when he threw the soldiers off the murderer's track but was nevertheless quieted.

Alan illustrated the danger David was in now that the soldiers thought that he was an accomplice in the murder. David was skeptical but was finally persuaded that he was safer to follow Alan than trust the Campbell's justice system. Alan alerted David to the hardships they would have to endure on the run but David was still uplifted to learn that they would be heading south. They rested as the soldiers searched for them far off.

David learned of the events following his capsize. Two more great waves came and toppled the ship upon the reef so that water poured in. The bedridden seamen cried out in such horror that the able bodied men hopped into the dingy and paddled to shore. Another wave pushed the ship in their pursuit but was soon pulled under and sunk to the bottom. The seamen rowed silently to the shore. At this moment, Hoseason demanded that they ambush Alan. Reluctantly the crew spread out to attack him until Riach stood and defended Alan. He suggested Alan run which Alan did. Because Alan had caught a glimpse of David holding onto the spar in the water, he hoped David might have survived and left clues along his path to guide the boy. As Alan ran, he alerted all he saw to the wreck on the beach.


This chapter is mainly explanatory, as Alan illustrates to David why he would not have participated in the crime, the probable difficulty of their journey versus the injustice David would face in a Campbell court, and the events which befell the Covenant and its crew after David was thrown overboard. The great ship has sunk to the sea floor. Symbolically, the womb which David had been trapped inside had been destroyed, freeing him to a more independent existence, one would think. However, after four days of living alone on the isle and managing to survive rather ingeniously, David follows the path of a condemned rebel instead of searching for a route home. By luck, or happenstance, David is thrown into a situation where he finds Alan. From this point until David reaches the Shaws at the end of the book, the two men are virtually inseparable. There are points where David considers leaving Alan but he does not wish to betray the kind friend.

Still, it is curious. If we look at David's adventures as a rite of passage, can he experience a true rite of passage when he will travel with a companion on whom he is so dependent? Is that a path to maturity or dependence? Or can one be mature and dependent simultaneously? Perhaps we will discover that David and Alan are codependent, which would support the analysis that David and Alan are two halves of one self, or doubles of one being. Yet, what does this say about adulthood? Was Stevenson actually saying anything about adulthood?

David morally believes that since he and Alan are innocent of the crime that they should aid not hinder the Sheriff and that they had no reason to run because their innocence would have been revealed. He does not understand the complex clan politics which exist in the Highlands, and which is partially explained in the historical note given at the beginning of the novel. His attempt to be rational and reasonable is thus rejected by Alan who feels that any jury David faced would be made up of Campbells, who were incapable of holding a fair trial. Each man does not understand the views of the other but David finally agrees to trust Alan as he is in his home territory. But one must realize that Alan's views are subject to a great bias because of his notion that anything to do with a Campbell is evil. Proof of this bias surfaced in Alan's reaction to David's friend Minister Campbell. The bias that each has - David's bias for reason and Alan's bias for romanticized resentment - drives their blindness to truth and is synecdochal for the very characters of David and Alan.

Chapter 19 Summary:

When it grew dark, the two climbed through the heather, coming out in view of a lit house. Many people scurried about but froze as Alan gave three sharp whistles to identify himself. When Alan and David reached the house, they were greeted by James Stewart of the Glens. Alan asked him to speak in English so David could understand. James immediately mentioned how bad of a day it had been. The murder would certainly be pinned on the people of Appin. Alan asked him to consider that the Red Fox was dead as well. But James exclaimed that he had a family and it would be better for him if Campbell were still alive.

During this conversation, the confused scurrying behind them continued. James explained that they were burying the weapons and burning dangerous documents. When Alan learned that they planned to hide his French clothing, he ran off to retrieve it, handing David over to James. David and James entered the house and sat at a table, but James was too deep in thought to pay much attention to David. James' wife stood weeping and his son sat at the fire, burning select papers. Finally, James could no longer sit and began to pace. At one point, James ran to his son and struck him for trying to burn a paper which could help him. The situation was very awkward for David, who was glad to see Alan reappear in his tattered French garb. While David changed into better clothing, the matter was settled between Alan and James that he would run with Alan. They were given provisions, including arms, food, and money. Alan noted that the money would soon run out but James told him he should not wait for more but should send word once they had traveled awhile. He exclaimed that soldiers would soon ransack the entire area and the news that Alan had been present would surface. James would have to create a wanted poster with Alan's name and another with David's. He figured that the Red Fox's relatives would do the same and it was James's only hope of avoiding some of their retribution.

Alan cried that he had brought David to this and now acted like a traitor. Alan asked David what he thought, who told them that they make posters of the man who had committed the crime, not of two innocent men. The Highlanders gasped, crying that they would not betray the Camerons. To David, this confirmed that the murderer was from the Cameron family. David gave up trying to use logic and agreed to help in any way he could. Mrs. Stewart ran over to Alan and David, thanking them both. She was especially grateful toward David because he was risking his life for strangers. She wept that she would always bless him. As day was approaching, Alan and David reentered the dark heather of the Highlands.


David comes into the urgency of the situation when they arrive at James of the Glens. He had not realized the severity of the situation nor the likelihood that the murder would be blamed on a scapegoat if the Campbells could not find the murderer. David still suggests making a wanted poster for the real murderer instead of for himself and Alan. However, the loyalty which the Stewarts feel toward the others in their clan overwhelms any sense of rational justice that David holds. The reader can understand the reaction that James and Alan have to the situation, though she may not condone it.

However, one also observes that Alan refuses to have his French clothing disposed of and puts the clothing back on his body even though it is incriminating, tattered, and dirty. This is a far from a rational response but Alan's romantic ideals and ego will not allow him to dress in clothing any less glorious. The clothing is a synecdoche for Alan, representing his loyalty to the French King and his need to arrogantly uphold his cosmopolitan reputation. As David observed on the ship, Alan was so consumed by his appearance and the material with which he adorned himself that he fussed over his clothing like a woman. By modern standards, this simile may seem sexist, but his point is well taken and we understand his meaning as we watch Alan return to his tattered French wear.

Mrs. Stewart is one of the few female characters in the novel. One will notice, however, that the female characters which are portrayed are given positive illustrations. Mrs. Stewart, though only a wife figure, and thus a secondary character, shows more sincere human emotion than do many of the other characters. One of Kiely's comments details that for all of the traumatic experiences which David and Alan undergo on their journey, truthfully their adventures are little more than boy's play. He alleges, ³For all the fatigue and discomforts caused by the rough terrain and the fickle Scotch climate during their flight in the heather, David and Alan have a rather whimsical time of it, whistling and joking and treating the dangers of man and nature with an air of casual disregard.² If this is true, which we will discuss later, the women at least seem to have a much more sincere investment in life and humanity.

Chapter 20 Summary:

During the night, they moved quickly, mostly running as dawn approached. Alan would pause occasionally at a house in order to keep his neighbors updated. When the sun rose, the two were in the middle of a valley, quite visible. The valley appeared empty but Alan ran on, coming soon to a stream. He leapt onto a rock in the middle of the river, followed shortly by David. David looked at the wide berth between them and the other side and became overwhelmed by fear. Alan tried to encourage David but saw that he may never move. Forcing David to drink some brandy, Alan then lifted himself up and leapt across. David, tipsy from the liquor, knew he must jump immediately. He took a giant jump, but only reached the shore with his fingertips. Barely grasping on, David was finally pulled onto land by Alan.

Alan instantly began running again. He slowed under a great rock, giving David a chance to breath. He then hitched himself up onto the rock by stepping on David's shoulders. From there, he was able to help David up. Once on top, David was able to see a sunken area in which the men could lie and be hidden from sight. Alan finally relaxed and teased David about his jumping abilities. He said however that he was to blame for their predicament. Because of Alan losing his way during the night, they had been in the open valley at dawn. Also, he had forgotten to bring water with them and had only the brandy. Alan told David that he could sleep first.

Hours later, David was awakened abruptly by the feel of Alan's hand across his face. He had been snoring. David did not care but upon sitting up, noticed the large amount of red coated soldiers scattered across the valley. Because of the proximity of the soldiers, David and Alan were forced to lie flat upon the rocks as silently as possible. In the sunlight, the rock became so hot that only the little area of peat and moss on the rock stayed cool. Only one man could fit on this, so they took turns lying on the burning rock surface. The heat was unbearable and the hot rum did not help. Sometimes, the red coats came close enough to touch the rock.

Finally, as the afternoon came, a shadow crept across the land and allowed the men to slip down behind the rock into the shade. As the soldiers moved closer to the riverside, Alan and David slipped away along the other side of the valley. It was slow moving but when the sun went down they were able to stand upright and travel faster. They reached a river and lay happily in it, drinking the water. Much refreshed, they continued until Alan was sure enough of their safety that he whistled tunes as they walked.


This chapter really begins the arduous and tumultuous trek which David and Alan undertake together to escape from Appin back to Queensferry. The route will be circuitous and haphazard since they must escape detection. It will bring David many times near death. And here from the start, the two must face danger. We will learn a little more about their dynamic as we watch the journey in its infant stage.

The first real obstacle that is approached is the large river, in the middle of which a rock stands. Alan leaps onto the rock and is ready to jump to the far riverbed. David has a look on his face which immediately tells Alan that he is too frightened to jump. He freezes, similar to the time he is faced with shooting a man in the round-house on the ship. Shooting a man is a horrible act and one that David never thought he would be doing. Jumping from a rock to the shore does not compare in severity. However, the rock incident can be looked at as a metaphor for David's active life, as we have begun to explore. David is a rather unusual hero and narrator. It is ironic that the first-person narrator, a character and a voice endowed with great agency, has such a passive active life within the novel. Of course, the events are determined by David's route and the eyes the readers look through are David's own. However, few of the actions are precipitated by David. The largest protests he seems to raise throughout the novel are over moral issues, such as gambling, lying, and drinking. Kiely called David an "inactive" and "inept" hero because of the lack of agency the character holds. He is incapable of risking the jump from rock to shore without the aid of brandy to loosen his inhibitions. With Alan's pleading and the brandy, David is finally able to make that jump. But the question remains, can he make the jump to independent thought and adulthood? He is an incomplete and fractured hero.

A quotation a little further on in the chapter again highlights David's passivity in his battle with self and agency. The text asserts, "I followed him at once, and instantly fell all my length, so weak was I and so giddy with that long exposure." This quotation refers to Alan leading David off of the heated rock into the shade. David following Alan off the rock is an obvious semantic symbol for David's reliance on the agency which Alan possesses. Also, notice the stressed idea of the long exposure the men had faced on the rock. They were exposed to a long period of scorching sunlight which burnt and drained their bodies excessively. As sunlight often functions as a symbol for knowledge, the quotation could be said to illustrate an overexposure to knowledge. David has suddenly been placed in a very adult position of a condemned man on the run. Furthermore, the theme of man versus nature surfaces in the quotation as we observe David struggling with the land which, as a mercantile Lowlander, he did not often have to manage.