In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, David Balfour is transformed by hardship the treachery of others from an optimistic, naive youth into a toughened survivor. However, he never loses his basic goodness and principle despite encountering a variety of rogues and dubious characters, and his hardship does not corrupt him. David’s courage and boldness both get him in trouble and save him. He saves Alan from the crew’s murder plot, which demonstrates his bravery even though it puts him at risk on the Covenant – and, though he admits “I did my fair share both of the killing and wounding” (p. 0), he bursts into tears afterward.
Also, his escape through the Highlands is both brave and dangerous, since he is a marked man, and nearly meets death at the hands of highwayman Duncan Mackiegh (posing as a blind man); however, he shows no fear in this confrontation, saying, “I told him that, sure enough, I had a pistol in my pocket as well as he, and if he did not strike across the hill due south I would even blow his brains out” (p. 106). These traits also work for him in the end, when he learns from Alan how to use a ruse to coax a confession from Ebenezer and claim his rightful inheritance.
Alan is a survivor of dubious morals, and while David adopts some of those instincts, he never becomes shady because of his innate honesty. David says when first seeing him that “here was a man I would rather call my friend than my enemy” (p. 57) and follows him because Alan is brave and resourceful, and decent despite his arrogance, cunning, and thievery (he steals David’s money to gamble). Also, Alan saves David’s life in the Highlands, when he is suspected of Campbell’s murder, but this is a mixed blessing, because David is forced to accompany Alan through the Highlands to avoid danger and then relies on his cunning to trap his uncle.
Meanwhile, Alan sees the good in David, despite the youth’s callowness; his comments, like “Ye’re a man of small contrivance, David” (p. 146), attest to his occasional impatience. However, he sees the possibility of gaining something from David, which he does (in the form of friendship, legal protection, and safe passage to France, where Alan was originally heading). David’s experiences on the Covenant make him bolder and more resourceful, changing him from a callow youth into a clever survivor. He does not lose his conscience, though, because he refuses to kill Alan and joins him in fighting off the crew.
However, after the shipwreck, he becomes lonely and increasingly desperate but never resorts to illegal means to get by. Also, he comes to see the desperation and turmoil in the Highlands, in which he becomes an enemy of the government and a hunted man. However, these events give him determination, not resignation to his fate; when Alan suggests that he and David flee to the Lowlands, he adds, “I was a little better inclined to go with him; for indeed I was growing impatient to get back and have the upper-hand of my uncle” (p. 25).
These combine to change his disposition from optimistic and angry and petulant, though he reverts to his normal self at the end. David seeks compensation rather than revenge from the uncle who tries to dispose of him; though it would be tempting to kill Ebenezer, David is principled where his uncle is not. His attempt to gain his rightful inheritance, though it comes through a ruse, it is basically an act of justice, since his uncle has no heirs and has wronged David needlessly.
After winning his prize, David remarks, “So the beggar in the ballad had come home; and when I lay down that night . . . I was a man of means and had a name in the country” (p. 215). David’s journey attests to how virtue can prevail even in adversity, and how one gains courage without succumbing to the corruption and treachery that surround him. While at times fearful and weak, he never loses hope and gains the strength and wisdom he needs to seek and receive his just rewards.