What are the internal and external conflicts in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

O. Henry's hilarious story of the misadventures of two con men whose supposed fail-proof plan to kidnap the child of the richest man in the small town of Summit, Alabama, backfires upon them when the boy proves more than a match for them. The conflicts that develop contribute to the advancement of the plot and provide the humor of the narrative.

External conflicts

  • "That boy put up a fight like a welterweight cinnamon bear," but the men finally succeed in pushing him to the bottom of the buggy and take him up to the "Cave" where they are hiding.
  • While they transport the boy, he kicks Bill severely and scratches him.
  • "That boy had Bill terrorized from the start" the narrator named Sam observes.
  • Red Chief, as the boy calls himself, keeps the men awake with his Indian cries and shrieks.
  • Defeated in their purpose, Sam asks the boy if he wants to go home, but Red Chief is having too much fun terrorizing Bill.
  • When they try to sleep with the boy between them, he keeps them awake for three hours "jumping up and reaching for his rifle and screeching."
  • The next day Sam wakes to the screaming of Bill whom Red Chief is attempting to scalp with the jackknife that the men use for slicing bacon.
  • The boy continues to threaten Bill with a rock and other forms of torture.
  • When Sam returns from delivering the ransom note, he sees Bill, weary and disheveled. Bill says that he was ridden like a horse until he just had to be rid of the boy. But, Sam tells him to turn around because Red Chief is behind Bill.
  • Sam thinks his ransom money has arrived as he sits on a limb of a tree, hiding; he jumps down and carries the note back to the camp. However, the letter has no money; instead, Mr. Dorset proposes that he take back his son for the price of $250.00. 
  • Bill and Sam discuss paying Mr. Dorset the $250 that he demands for taking the boy back, and they decide it is the only solution to their problems. 
  • When the kid learns that Sam and Bill intend to leave him at home, he howls "like a calliope and fastened himself as tight as a leech to Bill’s leg." His father eventually gets the boy away.
  • Bill runs so fast after the boy is returned that Sam cannot catch him.

Internal conflicts

  • When Sam finally falls into a troubled sleep, he dreams about having "been kidnapped and chained to a tree by a ferocious pirate with red hair."
  • "Bill’s spirit was broken" after Red Chief nearly scalps him. He cannot sleep as long as the boy is near him.
  • Sam, too, is worried about what Red Chief will do to him as he has mentioned burning him at the stake.
  • Bill worries that the parents will not pay a ransom.
  • The next morning Sam sees no evidence of anyone looking for the boy; he tells Bill that they need to devise a plan about the ransom and get a message to the father.
  • When Sam gets ready to depart for the town, Bill begs him not to leave him alone with the boy.
  • Bill worries that Mr. Dorset will not pay two thousand dollars, so he suggests that Sam only request fifteen hundred.