The Ransom of Red Chief Questions and Answers
by O. Henry

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What is the tone of Ransom of the Red Chief?

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Tone refers to an author's attitude regarding a particular subject. More often than not, tone is conveyed to a reader through the author's choice of words. I think a really great word to describe the tone used in this story is "amused" or "lighthearted." O. Henry tells this story in a very lighthearted and fun way. He does this by having one of the bumbling kidnappers be the story's narrator. This allows the story to be told with a familiar and colloquial tone because it enables O. Henry to completely ignore a lot of strict grammar conventions.

It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you.

[...]

Bill and me had a joint capital of about six hundred dollars. . .

There is a moment or two when the tone attempts to be diplomatic and serious. This occurs when Bill and Sam write their ransom demand letter to Ebenezer Dorset. The letter tries to convey serious intent from intelligent criminals, and it does this by being a bit more grammatically correct and using some big words.

If you pay the money as demanded, he will be returned to you safe and well within three hours. These terms are final, and if you do not accede to them no further communication will be attempted.

However, the letter comes so late in the story that readers will still be greatly amused by the letter because we realize how completely ridiculous it sounds. We know what bumbling idiots Sam and Bill are, and the letter just doesn't fit.

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Clair Heathcote eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The tone of The Ransom of Red Chief is humorous. Authors use different types of humor in literature including, but not limited to: hyperbole, dialect, and understatement.

Hyperbole is using obvious exaggeration to create humor in a story. An example in this story, "a town down there, as flat as a flannel-cake". O He's overly exaggerating the flatness of the town by comparing it to a flannel-cake.

Understatement, on the other hand, is the opposite of hyperbole. The author creates humor by using understatement to describe the innocence of the energetic, mischievous, red-headed boy in the story. Sam and Bill underestimate the power and danger of the little boy they call Red Chief.

Another way authors use humor in literature is through dialect, the way people speak depending on the region where they live. When the boy says, "I was only funning", it's humorous, because it's not the way most people talk. It's unusual, so it's funny.

 

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