The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry

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What happens in The Ransom of Red Chief?

In "The Ransom of Red Chief," Sam and Bill kidnap Johnny Dorset. They intend to ransom him off, but aren't prepared for his rambunctious antics. After Johnny attempts to scalp Bill, the two kidnappers devise a plan to return him to his father. In the end, they just run away.

  • Sam and Bill scout out a sleepy little town, where they kidnap the son of a wealthy man, intending to ransom him for a hefty sum.

  • Johnny Dorset, the boy they kidnap, proves to be a handful. He quickly takes control of the situation, manipulating his captors and threatening Bill with a scalping.

  • Sam and Bill think up a scheme to return Johnny to his father without being caught. The plot fails, however. In the end, Sam and Bill end up running away from Johnny, who doesn't want to lose his new playmates.

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The pattern of “The Ransom of Red Chief” is suggested by the first sentence of the story: “It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you.” The story is essentially ironic; in a series of comic reversals, the expected event is replaced by its opposite. From the name of the town where the story takes place, Summit, which is perfectly flat, to the end of the story, where a fat man outruns the thin narrator, that which the narrator anticipates never does occur.

(The entire section is 450 words.)