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The most interesting character in O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" is the boy who is supposed to be the victim and the hostage of the two amateur kidnappers. The wild kid wants to be an Indian, and he calls himself Red Chief. Both the terms "Indian" and "Red Chief" reveal a lot about his character. They are used constantly throughout the story and serve as a constant reminder that the two incompetent crooks are dealing with a really wild captive. Either term should have warned Bill and Sam that they were going to have a lot of trouble with their hostage. He doesn't mind being kidnapped in the least. This is just the sort of adventure he enjoys. It provides a rare opportunity to act like the wildest sort of savage. The fact that he calls himself a "Chief" indicates that he wants to take control--and he does. When Sam hears Bill screaming in the middle of the night, he says:
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.
This is typical of the boy's behavior. He is not just mischievous but actually dangerous. Sam and Bill sound as if they are both bachelors who have never had any experience dealing with children. They are getting the same kind of treatment that inexperienced substitute teachers sometimes encounter when they are thrown into a classroom with a bunch of unruly students. In the end, of course, they have to pay Red Chief's father to take him off their hands.
The moral of this comical story is one that O. Henry uses in a number of his stories. It can be expressed in two common sayings:
Crime does not pay.
Honesty is the best policy.
This moral is used, for example, in one of O. Henry's best stories, "A Retrieved Reformation." In that story Jimmy Valentine, the reformed safe cracker, writes a letter to a friend in which he expresses O. Henry's sincere feelings:
Say, Billy, I've quit the old business—a year ago. I've got a nice store. I'm making an honest living, and I'm going to marry the finest girl on earth two weeks from now. It's the only life, Billy—the straight one. I wouldn't touch a dollar of another man's money now for a million.
Either "Indian" or "Red Chief" seem like the best and easiest terms to use in answering your question.
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