The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry
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In "The Ransom of Red Chief," how does the kidnapping backfire on the kidnappers?

In "The Ransom of Red Chief," the kidnapping goes awry on Bill and Sam because they are forced to pay Mr. Dorset, the kidnapped boy's father, $250 to have the boy back, instead of Mr. Dorset paying them a ransom of fifteen hundred dollars to have his son back home.

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Bill Driscoll and the narrator, Sam, plan to kidnap the only son of a prominent resident of Summit, called Ebenezer Dorset. Summit is a laid-back town, down south, and the two men figure that they can easily get away with the kidnapping in that part of the world.

However, they...

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Bill Driscoll and the narrator, Sam, plan to kidnap the only son of a prominent resident of Summit, called Ebenezer Dorset. Summit is a laid-back town, down south, and the two men figure that they can easily get away with the kidnapping in that part of the world.

However, they soon determine that they have bitten off more than they can chew. The little boy absolutely loves being held captive by the two men. He likes being away from home and likes the idea of camping on the mountaintop. The two men soon realize that the little boy is just something else: he is extremely mischievous and hyperactive. He talks incessantly and does not tire of playing. At the beginning of his stay at the hideout, the boy decides that he is Red Chief and that Sam is Snake-eye the spy and Bill is his captive, Old Hank, in a game of Cowboys and Indians. He then proceeds to torture Bill mercilessly: he tries to scalp Bill at dawn; he throws a big stone at him using a sling; and finally, he works him hard, as his horse, in a game of Black Scout. Thus, it is no surprise that Bill is soon fed up with the boy’s antics. He convinces Sam to reduce the ransom from two thousand to fifteen hundred dollars to ensure that the boy’s father does not have second thoughts about picking up the little rascal.

The kidnapping goes awry when they receive a letter from Mr. Dorset, telling them that he is willing to take the boy off their hands if they are willing to pay him $250, as the boy is not missed at home. The kidnappers, tired of the boy’s pranks, agree to Mr. Dorset’s terms; they take the boy back home, pay up the $250, and leave Summit without achieving what they had set out to do. Instead of making money from Mr. Dorset, they pay him for kidnapping his son.

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