Who is Bill Driscoll in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?
Bill Driscoll is the sidekick of the main "villain," Sam, in O. Henry's humorous short story. He is introduced in the second sentence of the story by the narrator. Because the story is told in the first person point of view, all we know about Bill is what we learn from Sam. Bill is Sam's partner, and the two of them share the profits from their criminal enterprises. As the story opens, they have $600 between them, and they need $2000 more to pull off a "fraudulent town-lot scheme in Western Illinois." As Sam tells it, the scheme to kidnap a boy for ransom was a shared idea. However, as they carry out the scheme, Sam and Bill assume separate roles. Bill seems to be charged with the "brawn" part of the operation while Sam tends to the "brain" side. Therefore, Bill actually physically captures Johnny, and he is the primary "caregiver" for the boy.
Sam scouts the community, takes charge of writing the ransom note, and plans the drop-off point for the money. In the meantime, Bill takes a physical and mental beating from the boy. As Sam explains it, "that boy had Bill terrorized from the start." Red Chief hits Bill in the head with a rock, attempts to scalp him, talks his ears off, puts a hot potato down his back, kicks his shins, and bites his thumb. Bill is the one who lowers the amount of the ransom they are asking since he doubts the parents will pay $2000 to get the boy back. Finally Bill has had enough and sends the boy home, but Red Chief follows him back to camp.
Bill's level of education is hard to determine. While at times he uses informal language and grammar, making him sound uneducated, at other times he uses big words, as in this statement describing himself:
"I suppose you'll think I'm a renegade, but I couldn't help it. I'm a grown person with masculine proclivities and habits of self-defense, but there is a time when all systems of egotism and predominance fail."
Bill is the first of the two would-be criminals to accede to Ebenezer Dorset's demand for $250, and he is the first to run away from Dorset's house as fast as he can after they give up the boy. Part of the irony of the story, of course, is that neither Sam nor Bill makes a "good" villain or criminal. Bill rarely gives Red Chief a taste of his own medicine, and he tolerates much more from the boy than a hardened criminal would. So although Bill could be considered the villain in the story because he is the kidnapper, the reader grows to like and feel sorry for Bill and is glad when the man escapes from his former captive.
Bill Driscoll is one of the kidnappers in this story, a story I frequently used as a warning to my children when they were young about what would happen if they were kidnapped. The narrator is Sam, the other kidnapper. As we read the story, it appears that Sam is in charge of things, and that Bill is the weaker of the partners. But we can also see that while these men might be capable of trying to commit crimes, they are severely lacking in the hardheartedness or intelligence necessary to carry through with a kidnapping. Red Chief is a wonderful character and reminds me of Dennis the Menace and the boy in Home Alone.