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MonkeyNotes Study Guide for Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson-Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY FOR KIDNAPPED

CHAPTER 3: I Make Acquaintance of my Uncle

Summary

David is ushered into the gloomy house and led to the kitchen by the stranger who answered the door. The room is barely furnished. A bowl of porridge and a glass of beer are on the table. The stranger looks like a crook and is shabbily dressed. David is not able to guess either his age or his profession. The old man offers the bowl of porridge to David and consumes the beer himself. He introduces himself as Ebenezer, the brother of Alexander (David's father), and takes the letter from the boy. He looks disturbed when reading its contents.

David finds his uncle's behavior awkward and strange and feels ill at ease in his company. He is taken to his room in the dark and pushed inside to lie down on a damp bed. In the morning, he calls his uncle to open the door and, as instructed, he washes himself before sitting down to breakfast. When his uncle offers him a glass of beer, he accepts it thankfully; but when his uncle stares at him, David feels uncomfortable.

Ebenezer Balfour assures David that he will look after him and get him settled in life; however, he asks his nephew not to communicate with any of his friends. When David conveys the message of Jennet Clousten to him, he curses her. Then he prepares to go out and decides to lock David in from the outside. When David expresses his displeasure, Mr. Ebenezer decides to stay at home instead.


Notes

David is completely disillusioned about his uncle and his surroundings. The House of Shaws is dark, dilapidated, and unpleasant, and David is not even given a proper bed. His uncle, instead of being warm and sincere, is stern and suspicious. He keeps David under lock and key. Stevenson, like Charles Dickens, has the ability to create eccentric characters who stand out from the others through their startling appearance and strange behavior. Ebenezer Balfour is such a character. His ungainly image and curious ways disturb David, while amusing the reader. There is, however, something mysterious and secretive about Ebenezer Balfour. After reading his brother's letter, he looks troubled. He stares at David and asks him strange questions. He prefers to keep his house dark and to bolt the doors. He asks David not to communicate with his friends and restricts his movements.

David is very uncomfortable around Ebenezer, noticing his strange behavior. In spite of his discomfort, he remembers the advice of Mr. Campbell and minds his manners. He promises his uncle that he will not be a burden to him. He also follows his advice, washing up before breakfast as instructed. David, however, is also firm with his uncle and is not afraid to boldly express his ideas and opinions to him. Whenever David notices Ebenezer staring at him condescendingly, he reminds the old man that he is not at his mercy and can willingly leave Edinburgh and the House of Shaws at any time to join his friends. These words prove to be quite ironic, for David, through his kidnapping, is forced to leave Edinburgh through the manipulations of Ebenezer.

The chapter shows David's keen perception as he notices things about the house and his uncle's behavior. He thinks that Ebenezer seems uncomfortable and awkward because he is unaccustomed to any kind of human company, especially visits from youth. For a boy of sixteen, David shows maturity, intelligence, and good sense.

CHAPTER 4: I Run a Great Danger in the House of Shaws

Summary

In an attempt to relieve his boredom, David spends his time in useful pursuits. He starts reading Latin and English books, which are available in the library of the house. One day he discovers on the inside of a chapbook (a small book, usually of poetry) an inscription in his father's hand addressed as follows: "To my brother Ebenezer on his fifth birthday". This message puzzles David, and he starts considering the idea that his father and his uncle were twins. However, his uncle looks disturbed when David questions him about it.

One day Ebenezer plans to give his nephew thirty-seven gold guineas to fulfill a promise made to his brother, Alexander. When Ebenezer asks him bring a chest from the top of the tower, where the money is kept, David readily agrees to do the job. In the dark, he gropes his way up five stories to the tower, all the while braving rain, thunder, and bats. After reaching the top of the steps, he finds that they end abruptly. A flash of lightning makes him aware that if he were to fall from such a height, his life would be in danger. At that moment, he also catches a glimpse of his uncle gulping down liquor. Stealthily David climbs down the slippery stairs and catches hold of his uncle by the shoulders. Ebenezer is caught unawares and seeing David, he stumbles to the ground. After reviving his uncle with a dose of medicine, David questions him about his behavior. Ebenezer promises to reveal his intentions the next morning.

Notes

Stevenson develops the events in this chapter to provide dramatic intensity and suspense; the stormy weather helps to intensify the mood. David's discovery of a book inscription written in his father's hand creates doubt and confusion about his uncle's identity and relationship to his father. When he questions Ebenezer about it, the old man gets angry, almost violent.

Later, his uncle apologizes for his behavior and in a sad, emotional tone asks David not to mention his father again. David is puzzled by his uncle's behavior and says that "this laying of hands upon my person and sudden profession of love for my dead father, went so clean beyond my comprehension that it put me into both fear and hope. On the one hand, I began to think my uncle was perhaps insane and might be dangerous; on the other, there came up into my mind a story like some ballad I had heard folk singing, of a poor lad that was a rightful heir and a wicked kinsman that tried to keep him from his own." The plot of the boy's imagined story is obviously a clear foreshadowing of what the uncle will try to accomplish with his nephew.

David, who feels certain of his uncle's animosity towards him, is surprised when his guardian gives him thirty-seven guineas to fulfill a promise made to David's father. It is surprising that David does not suspect foul play since he questions much of what Ebenezer does. Instead, David decides to repay his uncle's generosity by climbing up the tower to carry down the chest that Ebenezer wants. In spite of the black night and stormy weather, his uncle refuses to provide him with a light; therefore, David must grope in the darkness while he climbs slippery steps and wards off rain and bats. The whole scene is charged with excitement. When he reaches the top step, a flash of lightning reveals that there is no room at the top of the tower, only a sharp drop-off. The wise David understands the danger he is in; it is his first real lesson about life. Stevenson symbolically compares David's journey up the steps to the journey of life, which is often filled with difficulty, darkness, and gloom that lead to disappointment and nothingness. David's journey with his kidnappers is such a journey; his later journey back to Edinburgh to confront his uncle will be a contrast and prove that life's journey can have a reward at the end.

After the frightening discovery at the top of the steps, David realizes his uncle's wickedness. His guardian had intentionally sent him on this errand in order to risk his life. Anger for his uncle electrifies him into action, and he grabs Ebenezer and easily overpowers him with his superior strength. This time he locks his uncle into the room. David, in spite of his efforts, is not able to find out the reason for his uncle's strange behavior; but the old man promises to talk about it the next morning.

This fourth chapter, which is filled with drama, ends with suspense, as the reader wonders why there are steps leading to nowhere and what Ebenezer will explain to David the next day. It must be remembered that Kidnapped first appeared as a serial in a boys' magazine. As a result, Stevenson wants to close out each chapter with enough generated excitement to make the reader find the next installment of the story.

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