Describe character types in "The Ransom of Red Chief."

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of the delicious irony of O. Henry's story is that the character types are reversed. Normally the kidnappers would be the "bad guys" or antagonists, and the kidnapped child would be the protagonist or hero. In this story, however, Red Chief is the "bad guy" even though he is only a young boy and should be easily overcome by two older men. The boy is as obnoxious, cruel, and dangerous as any outlaw. The kidnappers, Bill and Sam, on the other hand, are eminently likable. Bill is the side-kick who carries out the orders of the "boss." The fact that Bill keeps trying to humor the boy and "play" with him even after he gets injured several times makes readers feel sympathetic toward Bill. Sam is the "mastermind" criminal, but is also, along with Bill, the protagonist. Sam uses his head, trying to pull off a crime, but he bears so little animosity toward anyone and shows so much forbearance toward Red Chief that readers like him, too. Ebenezer Dorset, Johnny's father, who should be a protagonist, is another antagonist in this story. He is also the quintessential skinflint; he is aptly named, reminding readers of Ebenezer Scrooge. Although Sam is supposed to be the mastermind, Ebenezer outwits Sam easily, and the law-abiding citizen becomes the extortionist in this humorous and ironic tale.