"The Ransom of Red Chief," a short story by O. Henry, is a classic because of its brilliant irony. The focus of the story, an image or concept that the reader keeps in mind while reading and that the story action is built around, is the "ransom." Ransom is an amount of money demanded by a kidnapper to return the stolen person. The story begins by discussing the financial situation of Sam and his partner Bill. They need $2000 to be able to pull off a bigger swindle, so they kidnap the child of a prominent person in town.
As the story progresses, Bill and Sam are both tormented by the boy, and they begin to doubt that even a loving parent would pay money to get the rowdy child back. Decreasing the amount of the ransom, they end up demanding only $1500. After a harrowing day with the child, Bill sends him away, willing to get out of the predicament they are in without getting any money--zero ransom. However, Red Chief has followed him back.
Finally, Ebenezer Dorset, the boy's father, sends a reply to the ransom letter offering to accept $250 payment from the petty criminals to take his son off their hands. They agree. They find that some things are worth more than money, and some things they are unwilling to do even for money, such as live with a vicious and unruly child. The focus on the ransom moves the action of the story along and provides the final ironic twist ending.