Ideas and Topics for Papers


1. Readers have noticed Stevenson’s fascination with duplicity. In what ways do various forms of duplicity play a large part in the novel?

2. David and Alan have been judged by some critics as two parts of a whole, rounded person. How are they shown to have opposite and also complementary qualities? Do these traits truly “fit” together?

3. What does the episode of David’s stay on the island contribute to the story? What aspects of his personality does it emphasize?

4. What seems to be the Highlanders’ chief motivation in maintaining their loyalties to a lost cause?

5. The visit to the cave of Cluny Macpherson is not integral to the plot, but it enriches the characterization of both David and Alan. How?

6. David tells himself several times, especially after the murder of Colin Campbell, that he would be better off escaping alone than with Alan, who is suspected of the murder. Why does he not at least propose the separation to his friend?

7. Stevenson is known for his love of setting. How do the various locations, particularly in the Highlands, add to the force and vigor of the events?

8. Do the reasons for the quarrel between David and Alan seem valid? Is the settlement of the dispute readily believable? Why?

9. At the conclusion of the narrative, several matters remain unresolved, such as Alan’s escape and the murder mystery. Is the ending satisfactory?

10. David is repelled by bloodshed, yet he sees plenty of it and even causes some himself. How can his revulsion be reconciled with his active participation, especially on the ship?

11. Stevenson believed strongly in the element of chance in human life. How much of a part does accident play in the plot of Kidnapped? Do these events seem credible?

12. Can one believe Ebenezer Balfour’s extreme miserliness and excessive attention to security in view of the probable reasons that he became this type of miserable person?


1. Although Stevenson considered Kidnapped his best novel, some critics prefer David Balfour. Is the sequel a better literary production?

2. Although a knowledge of 18th-century Scottish history is not necessary for an appreciation of the book, in the year of publication (1886) many readers in England and Scotland would have had some grasp of that era. How does the study of the period of a “historical” novel facilitate understanding the book? How does the use of Scottish words and phrases make the novel seem more realistic and help the contemporary reader to gain a sense of 18th-century Scotland?

3. At one point, David complains about the Highlanders he has met, telling Alan that they could all use a bath. How does Stevenson seem to feel about these extraordinary people? Is he sympathetic or critical?

4. The plot of this book has been termed episodic. Are there any episodes that could be eliminated without detracting from the structure and effect of the novel?

5. Stevenson places much emphasis on the loyalty of Highlanders to their chief. Does this feeling seem valid and realistic? Are there logical reasons for the attitude? Is it better understood in historical perspective?