The Ransom of Red Chief Questions and Answers

O. Henry

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting The Ransom of Red Chief questions.

How does Johnny Dorset demonstrate the power of the human imagination?

O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" is an early example of what Hollywood calls a "busted caper" story. In such a story, some crooks plan to commit a crime that should yield a lot of money; but, usually because of poor planning, they run into serious problems and the job, or "caper," ends in disaster. A good fairly recent example of a busted caper movie is the very excellent Fargo, in which a man named Jerry Lundegaard, played to perfection by William H. Macy, hires a couple of hoods to kidnap his own wife. His idea is to get a million dollars from her wealthy father to pay the ransom money but to keep most of the money himself. Both his wife and her father end up dead and Jerry will go to prison for life. In "The Ransom of Red Chief" the biggest mistake made by the two crooks is in planning to kidnap a little boy without knowing anything about little boys. The main thing the crooks do not understand about children in general is that fantasies can be very real for some. Johnny Dorset is not just pretending to be a wild Indian named Red Chief. He really is a wild Indian named Red Chief. It is the intensity of the boy's imagination that moves the story forward and creates disaster. The crooks think that they can just pretend along with Johnny, but they are progressively disillusioned. 

How does "The Ransom of Red Chief" exemplify the saying, "Nothing ever goes as planned"?

 "The Ransom of Red Chief" can be read as an illustration of a universal truth. Nothing ever goes as planned. Bill and Sam were destined to have trouble from the moment they conceived the idea of perpetrating a kidnapping. In our own lives, we frequently see how our best-laid plans are often thwarted. For example, we go to the bank to draw out some needed money and find the door locked. There is a sign reading that the bank is closed today because it is some famous man's birthday which we forgot about. 

History is full of examples of how plans are thwarted. Christopher Columbus figured out that he could get from Spain to India by sailing west. He ran into the place where the continents of North and South America were joined together, and he discovered the New World instead of a passage to India. He decided that the people he encountered in the Caribbean must be Indians, and they have been called Indians ever since.

Perhaps the best example in literature of how things can and will go wrong is to be found in William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying. Anse Bundren and his children are trying to transport the coffin of Anse's deceased wife to Jefferson, where she asked to be buried. Everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong on the trip. The body begins to reek of decay, and in the end they are being accompanied by a hovering flock of vultures. William Faulkner's long story "The Old Man" is also a record of how everything that can go wrong does go wrong. 

To make God laugh, tell Him your plans.                    Mexican folk saying

Most of the things that go wrong in our lives are not serious but petty. Just the same, they are all illustrations of the great universal principle that nothing ever goes exactly as planned. It is interesting to keep a record of how many things went wrong during one of our days. It should teach us, as Hamlet tells Horatio in Shakespeare's play:


Our indiscretion sometime serves us well
When our deep plots do pall;and that should learn us
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will—     
   --Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2