What comedic elements are used by O. Henry in the story "The Ransom of Red Chief?"

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A comic story, play, or novel usually pivots on hyperbole (exaggeration) and reversal of expectations, and in this story, O'Henry does not disappoint.

Sam and Bill think it will be easy money for them to kidnap little Johnny and exact a handsome ransom from his father, the wealthy Mr. Dorset.

The comedic elements lie in the exaggerated way everything goes contrary to expectation. Johnny shows no reluctance to be kidnapped but comes along happily. Rather than terrifying the little Johnny by kidnapping him, the little boy terrifies his kidnappers. He attempts to scalp Bill as part of an Indian game, and attacks his kidnappers with a hot potato and a rock. By the end of the story, rather than getting a ransom, the hapless kidnapper duo pays Mr. Dorset $250 to take the wildly energetic child off their hands.

We laugh because this is a classic trickster tale, in which the seemingly powerless person bests the two who appear to hold all the power.

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The Ransom of Red Chief includes irony, role reversals with comic results, unexpected situations and actions, and outcomes that glorify the persons who are usually victims. O. Henry is a master in creating humor with all of these devices.

The location of the kidnapping is the town of Summit, which is not a summit but perfectly flat. The ten year old "victim" of the kidnapping refuses the candy offered to entice him into the wagon, then takes charge of the hideout by doing what all energetic ten year olds do, only more so. Johnny talks nonstop, is constantly active and demands that Sam and Bill keep active with him, acts upon his ideas and dreams of how to keep his adult captives under control, and generally turns the situation upside down. His father's suggestion that the "kidnappers" pay him in order to obtain their release is the ultimate confirmation of the complete failure of the "good thing" that Sam and Bill were expecting.

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