Kidnapped: Essay Q&A
1. Compare and contrast the characters of David and Alan.
David and Alan are opposites (foils) of each other in many ways. One episode that highlights the gulf of life experience between Alan and David is the battle of the round-house in Chapter X. Alan is a hardened warrior, whereas David is a rather soft young man who has led a sheltered life. Alan loves fighting and attains “a kind of ecstasy” from it; his most affectionate remark to David is prompted by the thrill of the battle: “I love you like a brother. And oh, man … am I no a bonny fighter?” Then he coolly passes his sword through each of the men he has killed to make sure they are dead. David, on the other hand, is oppressed with “horror” at having shot two men: the thought “sat upon me like a nightmare,” and he begins to sob like a child.
At times, Alan and David are painfully conscious of their differences, as during their argument in Chapter XXIV. This argument has come about because of their different attitudes to money. David’s Lowland Whig character makes him prudent and responsible about money, whereas Alan’s passionate, spontaneous Highland character means that he is reckless with it, gambling it away with no thought of the consequences.
In spite of the differences between the two men, they come to love and respect one another. David’s conciliatory words to Alan after their argument - “We’re neither one of us to mend the other - that’s the truth! We must just bear and forbear, man Alan!” - show that he recognizes that neither is better or worse than the other. Each has his strengths and weaknesses, and they are stronger when working as a team than either would be alone. In the larger sense, David and Alan’s experience is a plea for tolerance and cooperation that might be taken as a moral lesson of the novel.
2. While both Alan and David try to do what is right, their ideas of what is right differ. Examine these differences and what they tell the reader about the society in which Kidnapped is set.
Alan and David often refer to their opposing political affiliations. While David is a Protestant Lowland Whig, Alan is a Catholic Highland Jacobite. Scotland was made up of these two communities, but the dividing line between the two was frequently blurred: some Highland clans were not Jacobites and allied themselves to the English government. Similarly, both men come to respect aspects of each other’s values. When David hears about the Appin Stewart tenants’ sacrifice in paying a second rent to their exiled clan chief, Ardshiel, he says, “I call it noble … I’m a Whig, or little better; but I call it noble” (Chapter XII). Alan’s reply makes no concessions to the Whig cause, but crosses the political divide to recognize David’s inherent goodness: “Ay … ye’re a Whig, but ye’re a gentleman”.
David’s political convictions are understated, unlike Alan’s passionate commitment to the Stuart/Stewart cause. Nevertheless, it is clear after the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure that David has a faith in the English government-imposed justice system that Alan utterly lacks. David says, “I have no fear of the justice of my country” (Chapter XVIII). Such faith marks David out as a Whig Protestant Lowlander, as the Highlanders looked to their own clan leaders rather than the courts to solve disputes.
But David’s faith also springs from his naivety about the partisan nature of a justice system that is dominated by the pro-English Campbells. Alan’s cynicism about the justice system is a product of his greater experience as well as his animosity to the Campbells. He tells David that the murder will be “tried in Inverara, the Campbell’s head place; with fifteen Campbells in the jury-box, and the biggest Campbell of all (and that’s the Duke) sitting cocking on the bench. Justice, David? The same justice, by all the world, as Glenure found a while ago at the road-side.” Alan says that the ostensibly fair and objective justice system imposed by the English government is as partisan as the sniper who killed Colin Campbell.
David cannot understand why James of the Glens and Alan agree to Alan and David’s being “papered” (featured on “Wanted” posters) for the murder when they are innocent. Taking the external code of the law as his guide, he believes that the guilty man should be punished and the innocent be cleared. He trusts the English government’s courts to ensure this. But James and Alan have a quite different idea of right and wrong. For them, the murder of Colin Campbell was not a crime but a form of justice, delivered in payment for his brutal treatment of the Appin Stewarts. Therefore, according to their Highland and Jacobite code of ethics, the true killer should be helped to escape. Alan explains the logic as follows: “Why, David … the innocent have aye a chance to get assoiled [acquitted] in court; but for the lad that shot the bullet, I think the best place for him will be the heather. Them that havenae dipped their hands in any little difficulty, should be very mindful of the case of them that have. And that is the good Christianity” (Chapter XVIII). David reflects, “Alan’s morals were all tail-first, but he was ready to give his life for them, such as they were.” Even if he cannot agree that he and Alan should be treated as guilty to protect the truly guilty man, David respects the spirit behind Alan’s view.
To a great extent, the moral uncertainties that divide Alan and David are governed by the political realities: that Alan’s people are the persecuted indigenous community, and David’s people are the occupiers. These ambiguities still apply in situations of military invasion and occupation today: one side’s “terrorist” or “insurgent” may be the other side’s “freedom fighter” or member of the defense forces.
3. What role does the character of Ebenezer play in the story as a whole?
Ebenezer renounces love (David’s mother) in return for worldly goods (the estate of Shaws). This deal has a Faustian flavor, Faust being a man who, according to German legend, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. In true Faustian tradition, however, Ebenezer does not find fulfillment in his chosen life. His only concern is to hold onto his ill-gotten wealth. Thus he allows the house of Shaws to descend into ruin, eats a poor diet, and is unwilling even to spend money on candles (the lack of lights is symbolic of his benighted outlook). Instead of welcoming David as a relative, he can only see him as a threat to his wealth. Because of his avarice, he lost his brother, the woman he loved, and now his nephew David.
Ebenezer’s story could be read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of materialism. It relates to the overall theme of money and greed in the novel. For example, Hoseason subjugates the humane to the purely financial. He sees David not as he is - a young orphaned boy in need of benevolent guidance - but as a commodity to be sold for money. The corrupting influence of such an attitude filters down to the Covenant’s crew, so that all the men are willing to go along with the slavery plan. It is left to an outsider, Alan, to liberate David from his captors. It is no coincidence that David’s savior is the recklessly unmaterialistic son of a similarly unmaterialistic father, who later gambles away what little money he and David have.
While Alan’s job is that of a tax collector for Ardshiel, the spirit in which those taxes are given is different from the spirit in which the taxes for King George II are given and collected. The taxes paid to King George II are enforced by an alien occupying army that is systematically destroying the Highland culture. The second tax that the Appin Stewart tenants pay to Ardshiel is a mark of their loyalty to their clan leader. Alan comments on the English government forces, “One thing they couldnae kill. That was the love the clansmen bore their chief. These guineas are the proof of it” (Chapter XII).
Thus money, which enslaves Ebenezer and corrupts Hoseason, can also be a symbol of love and liberation. It should not be forgotten that David’s own coming-of-age takes the form of claiming his rightful inheritance. His first transaction with that money, though, is to help Alan escape to France. This reinforces the idea that money in itself is neither positive nor negative; it is how a person uses and prioritizes it that matters.
4. At the end of the novel, David settles for two-thirds of the income from Shaws, allowing Ebenezer to keep one-third and to continue living in the house. Is this a satisfactory ending, given that Ebenezer tried to kill David and have him sold as a slave?
Some critics comment that Ebenezer does not deserve to keep one-third of the income from the estate because of his evil actions towards David in the past: trying to kill him and having him sold into slavery. For this reason, they find that the novel’s ending lacks a sense of moral justice.
It is true that this ending is ill at ease with the romantic idealism that characterizes most nineteenth-century novels. Such novels generally fulfill readers’ expectations that the good will attain their desires and the evil will receive their just deserts. However, Stevenson’s ending is arguably more realistic. Stevenson trained as a lawyer, and Mr. Rankeillor’s advice to David to do a deal with Ebenezer is exactly the kind of pragmatic advice that a real-life lawyer might give in such a situation. Mr. Rankeillor says that if David deprived Ebenezer of all his wealth, his uncle would fight him in the courts. “A lawsuit,” he says, “is always expensive, and a family lawsuit always scandalous.” In any court case, David’s dealings with the outlaw Alan may come to light, endangering both men. The kidnapping, though a point against Ebenezer, would be hard to prove. Thus Mr. Rankeillor advises leaving Ebenezer with one-third of the income and allowing him to stay at the house.
It is difficult to imagine Alan agreeing to such terms with his enemy. But this solution, which Alan would no doubt consider depressingly Whig-like, suits David’s cautious and pragmatic nature. As a bonus, it avoids disturbing his Lowland Whig reserve: “to carry familiar concerns before the public [in a lawsuit] was a step from which I was much averse.”
David’s settlement also recognizes that Ebenezer, albeit a villain, is a beaten old man with nothing left to live for except his hoard of wealth. David is not cruel or vindictive enough to want to make him suffer more. The compassionate option is to allow him to stay where he is and give him enough to live on. More importantly, he is not so greedy as to fight for every last penny of his inheritance. For him, enough is sufficient.
5. The fate that Ebenezer has planned for David is to have him sold into white slavery. Were there white slaves in America? What was the attitude of Europeans towards slavery in the eighteenth century?
The white slave trade was a major public issue in the nineteenth century. It was perhaps comparable to pedophilia in modern society, in that the problem did exist, but public alarm escalated beyond what could be justified by the facts. There were white slaves in America, who worked alongside the black slave majority. Some white slaves were born into slavery, the offspring of white male slave owners and black women slaves. As the children of slaves were legally deemed slaves themselves, the white slave population in the southern states of America and elsewhere grew substantially from within the existing slave population. Other white slaves were kidnapped or sold into slavery. Accounts of white slavery reportedly helped shock some Britons who did not previously oppose the slave trade to become abolitionists, as they found white slaves easier to identify with.
In nineteenth-century Britain, white slavery became synonymous with sexual slavery, as by far the greatest proportion of “human trafficking” was of for the purpose of forcing young girls into prostitution. The crisis came to a head in 1885, when the journalist and human rights campaigner William Thomas Stead bought Eliza Armstrong, the thirteen-year-old daughter of a chimney sweep, to draw public attention to his crusade against child prostitution. His action is thought to have furthered the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which helped prevent sexual abuse of children by raising the age of consent. Nevertheless, he himself was convicted and imprisoned for three months on the grounds that he had failed to gain permission for the purchase from Eliza’s father. Thus he fell victim to the very law he helped to implement.
Slavery was declared illegal in England in 1772 and in Scotland in 1778. However, England remained prominent in the slave trade, shipping slaves from Africa to America and the Caribbean. In 1787, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in Britain. The nation was divided on the issue. Those who profited from the trade opposed abolition, but a growing group of abolitionists organized popular campaigns such as a boycott on consuming sugar, a crop that depended upon slave labor. The campaign succeeded in 1807 with the passage into law of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which banned the slave trade in all countries of the British Empire. Slavery was abolished in America as a result of the Civil War of 1861-1865.
In spite of official bans on slavery in most countries, as of 2008, human trafficking, the transportation of people for the purpose of exploitation, remains an international human rights scandal.