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The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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Characters in "The Ransom of Red Chief"


The main characters in "The Ransom of Red Chief" are Sam and Bill, two small-time criminals who kidnap Johnny Dorset, a mischievous boy who calls himself Red Chief. Johnny's father, Ebenezer Dorset, is also significant as he cleverly turns the ransom situation to his advantage.

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What is Ebenezer Dorset's role in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

Ebenezer Dorset, the father of the kidnapped boy who calls himself Red Chief, takes a few actions in the story. Some of them we must assume because we see the result of the action but aren't actually told of it when it happens. Since Sam is the narrator, we see and know only what he sees and knows.

Dorset receives the letter Sam sends that demands ransom. Upon receiving it, he scribbles back a note in a "crabbed hand" that makes a counter proposition. He states he will take Red Chief off the hands of the kidnappers if they pay him $250 and bring the child that night after dark. He sends a boy on a bicycle to put the note into the place Sam had instructed him to put the ransom money.

When Sam and Bill come to return Red Chief, Dorset comes to the door. He accepts the money from Sam into his outstretched hand. He peels his son off the leg of Bill and warns him that he should flee quickly because he can only hold the boy about ten minutes since he is not as strong as he used to be. 

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Who is Johnny Dorset in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

Johnny Dorset is the son of Ebenezer Dorset, who is a prominent citizen of Summit and a wealthy mortgage fancier. Sam and Bill are the two outlaws who kidnap Johnny Dorset in hopes of ransoming him off and getting his wealthy father to pay a handsome sum for Johnny's return. However, the two kidnappers do not anticipate Johnny's antics as he begins to terrorize them while they are waiting for his father to respond to their ransom note.

Johnny Dorset is portrayed as a rambunctious, bold child, who thoroughly enjoys the adventure of camping with outlaws in the great outdoors. He insists on being called Red Chief and proceeds to terrorize Bill and annoy Sam while they are waiting to receive his ransom.

Ironically, Johnny's father writes a letter to the outlaws demanding two hundred and fifty dollars to take his son back and the outlaws comply. Sam and Bill are forced to come up with a scheme to return Johnny and end up paying Ebenezer Dorset the money to take back Red Chief.

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Who is Johnny Dorset in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

The name Johnny Dorset does not occur in the story until the end.  The kidnappers decide to kidnap a child of a prominent citizen for the purpose of getting money.  They chose the only child of Ebenezer Dorset, a mortgage financier.  They figured they could shake down the old man for about two thousand dollars. 

When they kidnap the boy, he puts up a tremendous fight, but as soon as they get him back to the cave where they are staying, the boy starts playing Indians and calls himself Red Chief.  For the rest of the story, he is called Red Chief.  It isn’t until the kidnappers get a response from their ransom note that the name Johnny Dorset is mentioned.  The old man responds,

“You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands.“ (pg 7)

That is when we learn that the kidnapped boy is Johnny Dorset.  The kidnappers pay the ransom and gladly leave him with his father. 

My copy of the story comes from the internet.  The page numbers may be different in your copy, but it should give you a basic idea of where to locate the information.  

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