“The Ransom of Red Chief” is a short story written by O. Henry. It was first published in 1910. In the story, two men, Bill and Sam, kidnap a young boy, Johnny. They do this in the hope to make some money. However, at the end of the story, they do not receive the money: instead, they are the ones who end up paying.
Perception is one of the main themes in the short story. Bill and Sam wrongly assume that kidnapping a boy is an easy way to make money. Their perception of this undertaking is totally wrong, as their plan does not work out at all. Therefore, the story shows very clearly that things are not always the way you initially perceive them to be. Another example of this is that Bill and Sam expect children of rich families to be well-behaved, given their privileged upbringing—yet Johnny proves this perception wrong, as he is not easy to handle at all.
Truth and reality are also important themes in the short story. For example, the fact that Johnny calls himself “Red Chief” underlines the theme of truth and reality. Johnny is not really called “Red Chief,” nor is he an Indian—he is a white American boy. Therefore, his chosen name does not reflect the truth at all, yet he insists on this name.
The story is set in a little town called “Summit”—yet we know that it was “as flat as a flannel-cake.” The ironic nature of the name is used to question reality and the truth, as it clearly does not represent the actual geographic reality of the town’s location.
One can therefore conclude that the author questions truth, perception, and reality throughout the story. He repeatedly shows the reader that things are not always as they seem to be and that it is dangerous to rely on what you perceive to be the truth or reality.