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The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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Discussion Topic

The father's surprising and clever response to the kidnappers in "The Ransom of Red Chief"

Summary:

The father's surprising and clever response to the kidnappers in "The Ransom of Red Chief" is that he demands they pay him $250 to take his son back. This unexpected twist turns the tables on the kidnappers, who had expected to receive a ransom but instead find themselves paying to return the troublesome boy.

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How does the father respond to the ransom letter in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

In this humorous story, Sam and Bill are two inept criminals who kidnap ten-year-old Johnny, the son of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset.

In a ransom letter to Johnny's father, Sam and Bill demand fifteen hundred dollars for Johnny's safe return. Upon receipt of the ransom money, the two crooks promise Johnny will be returned within three hours.

When he receives the letter, however, Mr. Dorset is nonchalant about the contents. He writes back and proposes a counter-offer, where the two criminals will pay him two hundred and fifty dollars for taking Johnny off their hands. Mr. Dorset adds that he thinks the two men will be inclined to accept his generous offer. He also advises them to bring Johnny back at night, as he confesses he can't be responsible for what his neighbors will do to anyone they see bringing Johnny back.

Even though Mr. Dorset's response is humorous, we must understand that he knows his son very well and imagines Johnny must be more trouble to the criminals than he's worth. This explains his lack of concern at having received such a letter. Also, it appears as if none of Mr. Dorset's neighbors are especially inclined to see Johnny home, either. Mr. Dorset responds to the letter calmly and with an almost disinterested tone; he isn't the least bit worried and doesn't betray any fear.

Bill and Sam both decide having Johnny for an extra night is a trial they don't intend to endure. They resolutely conclude that paying a ransom to Mr. Dorset to take Johnny back would be the better deal. The story ends with Bill and Sam dropping off Johnny at the front door, and Bill pays two hundred and fifty dollars to Mr. Dorset. Then, with Mr. Dorset promising to hold on to Johnny for about ten minutes, both men make a hasty getaway.

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What is the father's reaction to the ransom note in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

Red Chief is a rascal. He is all boy. He causes so much trouble until no one tries to rescue him when he is kidnapped. In fact, the criminals or kidnappers in "The Ransom of Red Chief" had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

The kidnappers first decide that they will return Red Chief for 2,000 dollars. When they do not hear anything from the ransom note, they begin to tire of putting up with this aggravating boy.

As it turns out, the father of Red Chief is not willing to pay 2,000 dollars for his boy. He does not agree to pay anything for his boy. In fact, he will only take him back for 250 dollars.

Possibly the father thought the kidnappers would not pay and that he would be rid of his boy and his trouble. Nevertheless, Red Chief is so troublesome until the kidnappers agree to the payment and gladly pay Red Chief's father to take the boy off their hands.

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How did the father outsmart the kidnappers in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

In the short story "The Ransom of Red Chief", two kidnappers get much more that they ever expected when trying to kidnap a young boy and hold him for ransom. The boy turns out to be so spoiled rotten that the kidnappers can not handle being around him. They attempt to get money from the boy's father, but the boy's father "outsmarts" them by refusing to pay. He not only refuses to pay the kidnappers, he tells them they will have to pay him to take the boy back and let them go. This is a perfect example of irony in literature.

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Why were the kidnappers surprised by the father's response in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

Bill and Sam initially plan on making their money by kidnapping Ebenezer Dorset's son and holding him ransom for two thousand dollars. They discover that Ebenezer Dorset is a wealthy mortgage fancier with a ten-year-old son named Johnny, who turns out to be a handful for the two kidnappers. In their ransom letter, Sam appeases Bill by asking Ebenezer Dorset for fifteen hundred dollars in exchange for Johnny's safe return. While the con men wait for Ebenezer's response, Johnny terrorizes Bill by kicking him in the shins, disrupting his sleep, physically threatening him at knifepoint, burning him with a scolding hot potato, and slinging rocks at his head using his slingshot. When the con men finally receive a response from Johnny's father, Ebenezer surprises Bill and Sam by demanding two hundred and fifty dollars to take Johnny off their hands. Ironically, it is Johnny who holds his capturers hostage, and they end up paying Ebenezer the two hundred and fifty dollars to take him back.

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Why were the kidnappers surprised by the father's response in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

The father's response surprises the kidnappers because they expect him to love his child and want him back. In fact, the kidnappers rely on this for their scheme to earn money:

Philoprogenitiveness, says we, is strong in semirural communities; therefore, and for other reasons, a kidnapping project ought to do better there than in the radius of newspapers that send reporters out in plain clothes to stir up talk about such things. 

It is thus definitely surprising to Sam and Bill when the father of the kidnapped child gives them a counter-proposal: they are to bring the child back to the father, and, in lieu of claiming the ransom, they are to pay the father 250 dollars themselves to take him off their hands. Bill, the more battered between the pair, hastens to bring back the child and pay the ransom to the father. He then runs away as fast as he can from the child. It's certainly an unusual way to respond to a kidnapping!

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