by Robert Louis Stevenson
Kidnapped Theme of Defeat
Let's think for a second about the fates of the real-life people Davie meets on his journey through Scotland: Cluny Macpherson, dead in France; James Stewart, hanged for the murder of Colin Roy; and Robin Oig, hanged for the forced marriage of Jean Kay (source). In a lesser novel, the life of the Highland outlaw might be glamorized or romanticized. But in Kidnapped, most of the clansmen Davie meets are outcasts, constantly on the run from British soldiers or rival families. Stevenson is not overly sentimental about this Highland history – these outlaws are more often than not unfriendly and unwelcoming toward Davie, for example. But, as the final remnants of a Highland clan tradition that has to go into hiding, they can't help but be tragic figures.
Questions About Defeat
- What are some of the results we see of the defeat of the Highland clans in 1745 and 1746, six years before the events of the novel?
- How do the Highland gentlemen who appear in Kidnapped – including the Stewarts, Cluny Macpherson, Robin Oig and so on – seem to respond to defeat? What might differing responses to their defeat at the hands of the English tell us about their characters?
- What kinds of methods do the Highlanders use to subvert the laws of their conquerors?
Chew on This
Stevenson's references to the anti-Tartan dress codes of post-Culloden Moor Scotland emphasize the transitional period in which the novel is set. Earlier forms of clan rule are being forced to give way to English authority.
The Highlanders continue to collect weapons, refuse to wear Lowland clothes, and send money to their exiled clan chiefs in gestures of defiance against English rule.