Study Guide

Kidnapped Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Alan's French Clothes

Initially, Alan's clothes indicate to Captain Hoseason that he is a Jacobite. He has a Scottish accent, but he's dressed like a Frenchman. Bonnie Prince Charlie's 1745 uprising against the English throne began in France but then moved to Scotland and the Highland clans. So Alan's clothes provide an easy way of identifying his politics.

At Kidnapped continues, however, the clothes become a larger symbol of what Alan hopes to achieve. Davie has something to reclaim by the end of the novel: his inheritance. He hopes to wind up back at Queensferry where he started. Alan, on the other hand, is wanted for desertion from the English army and rebellion against the king. Even if he manages to beat the murder rap for Colin Roy of Glenure, he'll still be convicted of treason if he gets caught in either the Highlands or the Lowlands. His own country of Appin is too dangerous a place for him to stay. So Alan needs to get back to France.

With the goal of reaching France, Alan has a reason to keep pressing on across the Highlands with Davie. His certainty of reaching France, and his vanity about his appearance once he gets there, becomes clear when he becomes furious with his kinsman, James Stewart, for suggesting that he change his clothes to be less conspicuous while he's on the run. Alan also relies on a French letter of commission in the army as proof that he's not an English deserter, but a French soldier – though whether this would stand up against a military court seems pretty unlikely to Davie (and to us).

Alan's Silver Button

Like Alan's French clothes, this silver button becomes an immediate means of identifying Alan and the people attached to him. The set of silver buttons originally belonged to Alan's father, Duncan Stewart. Alan entrusts one of them to Davie. When the two men are separated by the Covenant wreck, Alan leaves messages for Davie as "the lad with the silver button" (15.7). And when the two men attempt to get a message to James Stewart, they use the silver button to identify themselves to messenger John Breck.

Highland Tartans

Many of the objects of this novel, like many of the minor characters, have their greatest function in moving the plot forward. This is, after all, an adventure story, and fast pacing is key. So we have Alan's French clothes, which identify him as a Jacobite to Hoseason and as Alan to the rest of the Highland world. And we have Alan's silver button, which says "Alan Breck Stewart" to all of his friends.

The Highland tartans are also symbolic forms of identification. These are the plaids that are used to mark the different Highland clans at a glance. In Kidnapped, what's weird about these plaids is that they are really visible in their absence. In the aftermath of rebellion, the English have legislated against them in an effort to break apart the clans. To get around this law, Davie observes Highlanders with imitation tartan patterns drawn on their pants, or with kilts that have been stitched together in the middle like some kind of undivided pair of plaid shorts.

This fact about the tartans goes from being an interesting cultural observation to an important plot point when we get to the murder of Colin Roy. Davie notes that Colin Roy's servant is wearing tartan, "which showed that his master was of a Highland family, and either an outlaw or else in singular good odor with the Government, since the wearing of tartan was against the [law]" (17.8). This tartan-wearing servant, proof that "his master [is] in singular good odor with the Government," is the first sign we have that the man passing in front of Davie is the King's Factor, his representative in the area.

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