Which characters are the main and supporting-- antagonist,protagonist,dynamic,static, or stock?"The Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In O. Henry's delightful story, "The Ransom of Red Chief," those characters who begin as the antagonists turn out to be the protagonists, and vice versa in a comic reversal.  So, the narrator, Sam, who with his partner Bill--two stereotypical "two-bit crimnals"--devise a plan, which they call a "kidnapping project."  The victim that they choose, the only child of a prominent citizen of Summit, Alabama, should be the protagonist who must fight for his life against the antagonists, Sam and Bill. From the beginning the boy "put up a fight like a welter-weight cinnamon bear." However, in a hilarious ironic twist, Bill especially becomes the victim; he is the victim of the red-haired boy who wears feathers and calls himself "Red Chief."  Before long, Bill is literally tortured by the bellicose boy who has so much fun that he does not want to return home:

I jumped up to see what the matter was Red Chief was sitting on Bill's chest, with one hand twined in Bill's hair.  In the other he had the sharp case-knife we used for slicing bacon, and he was industriously and realistically trying to take Bill's scalp, according to the sentence that had been pronounced upon him the evening before.

Similarly, the father of Red Chief, Ebenezer Dorset, reverses the supposed role of protagonist/victim after the men send their ransom note.  Rather than paying the ransom, Mr. Dorset assumes an offensive role and replies in a letter himself, telling them that if they bring his son Johnny home and pay him two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, he will agree to "take him off your hands."  He follows this proposal with a warning to the men about what the neighbors might do to anyone bringing back Johnny.

O. Henry's is a story written in the comic tradition, lacking any sentimentality in its reversal of character roles for the protagonists and antagonists.