Main themes of Kidnapped

Three emblems representing key themes of Kidnapped: initiation and maturity, duality, and man versus nature

While Kidnapped is an adventure story, there are also layers of meaning which are about more than the simple telling of a story.

Themes are the strands of meaning that connect sets of ideas in a text. They involve what is stated, what is implied and what is signified by images and symbols.

Maturity

The main character, David, starts the novel as a fairly naïve individual. He imagines his wealthy relatives living in a big house and assumes that if he turns up there then he will be made to feel welcome.

In the course of his journey he not only travels through different places but passes several milestones. Things happen to him that mark his development from a child to an adult. Therefore the journey he undertakes over the course of the novel is both a physical one and a symbolic one.

Some of the milestones are:

  • Leaving his home in the Borders shows that David is willing and able to live independently.
  • The incident when Ebenezer attempts to get rid of him, by sending him up the unfinished stair, demonstrates that David can be decisive and firm.
  • David shows presence of mind and rapid judgement when he decides to tell Alan that the ship's crew are going to trap him.
  • The reader sees how capable and decisive David has become when he finds Rankeillor, which helps set up the encounter to catch Ebenezer.

By the end of the novel he has achieved a degree of maturity and understanding he did not possess at the beginning.

Duality

The novel also explores duality - the idea of the same thing having two parts. The two main characters, Alan and David, have contrasting backgrounds and points of view.

Alan and David - dualism
DavidAlan
NaiveExperienced
LowlandHighland
ScotsGaelic
LegalTribal

The contrasts between David and Alan can be seen as representing aspects of Scotland and Scottishness. The distinction between legal and tribal viewpoints is particularly important against the background of a changing society, when the main characters seek to achieve justice for wrongs done to them.

The two main characters represent these aspects of Scotland and Scottishness most strongly, but the theme is also explored through a variety of characters and settings.

Duality of character
Characteris...but..
Riachharsh, when soberkind, when drunk
Hoseasona responsible captaincommits a crime
Alanloyal and generousis also completely ruthless
Davidgenerally prudentcan be rash - he taunts Alan for being a turncoat

Man versus nature

The novel addresses the theme of 'man versus nature' at many points. From the shipwreck onwards, the two main characters must confront many challenges:

  • The storm drives the ship onto the Torran Rocks and wrecks it.
  • David is marooned on what he thinks is an island.
  • David must 'live off the land’ which leaves him feeling ill, weak and helpless.
  • Alan and David must endure extreme conditions, like being soaking wet and burning hot.
  • The Forth proves a barrier to their return to the Lowlands.

Meeting these challenges helps David to mature. It also allows the reader see how Alan is an ingenious and tough character.

Nature is not their enemy. Rather, it is a constant force for them to struggle with throughout the novel. In this way it is more than a setting, it is a force in the novel. This is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Kidnapped.