The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

Start Free Trial

What is a character sketch of Sam in "The Ransom of Red Chief"?

Quick answer:

Sam in "The Ransom of Red Chief" is a foolish person who makes the mistake of misjudging the people of Summit and thinking he can make easy money kidnapping a child. However, despite this character flaw, he proves to be a kind and compassionate man who allows himself to be terrorized by a child rather than hurting him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sam is the narrator of the story and, thinking he is more sophisticated, badly misjudges the people around him. In this case, he is sure the residents of the small, backwater Alabama town of Summit are hicks and yokels who will fall easy prey to a kidnapping scheme. He calls them "self-satisfied" and "peasantry," assuming that they are backwards and ignorant.

In fact, it is Sam himself who is self-satisfied and ignorant, sure that he and Bill can kidnap the son of a prominent townsman named Ebenezer Dorset with no problems. Sam notes that there is not much police force in the town, and he foolishly assumes the kidnapping will be easy money.

As it happens, Sam has misjudged everything, and the kidnapped boy soon has the upper hand, terrorizing the two hapless kidnappers. It is here we see another side of Sam: he is not as tough as he thinks and certainly not cut out for a life of crime. He is, in fact, a kindhearted and gentle man who is at a disadvantage as he doesn't want to do any genuine harm to his victim. A hardened criminal would not have hesitated to treat Red Chief with the harshness or cruelty necessary to subdue him, but Sam is at a loss. He quickly crumbles when Mr. Dorset agrees to take his son back for $250.00, saying,

This little he ewe lamb has somewhat got on my nerves too. We’ll take him home, pay the ransom and make our get-away.

We like Sam all the better for being compassionate, and the reader hopes he has learned a little about the dangers of labeling people as inferior.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial