The little boy named Johnny Dorset, who calls himself Red Chief, is delighted with being kidnapped because it lets him escape from the discipline and chores of home, if any; because it gets him out of school; because it lets him live in the outdoors like a real Indian; and because it seems like the supreme adventure of his life. He relates well to Bill and Sam. He has never known any adults who behaved in such an antisocial way. They become, in his eyes, like Indians themselves. Being outlaws, the two men have relinquished whatever dignity and authority they might have had as respectable adult citizens. Red Chief treats Sam as an equal and Bill as a subordinate. The kidnappers' biggest problem is not keeping their captive in their custody, but in getting rid of him. They have a tiger by the tail.
“Red Chief,” says I to the kid, “would you like to go home?”
“Aw, what for?” says he. “I don’t have any fun at home. I hate to go to school. I like to camp out. You won’t take me back home again, Snake-eye, will you?”
“Not right away,” says I. “We’ll stay here in the cave a while.”
“All right!” says he. “That’ll be fine. I never had such fun in all my life.”
He couldn't have much fun at home with his father. The name Ebenezer Dorset suggests that the man is a sourpuss and a skinflint like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' famous tale "A Christmas Carol." The boy is having so much fun because of the contrast between life as a kidnap victim and life at home.
It turns out that Ebenezer drives a tight bargain, as he probably has done all his adult life, since he owns much of the property in the vicinity of Summit and holds mortgages on the rest. Instead of paying to get his wild son back, he demands $250 to take him off their hands. And because of the trouble Red Chief has given them, they are willing to pay the reverse-ransom.
O. Henry's stories are often ironic. But "The Ransom of Red Chief" is crammed with ironies. The kidnap victim enjoys being a victim. His father doesn't seem to care if he ever gets him back. And the kidnappers have to pay reverse-ransom in order to get rid of the victim.