The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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Which character in "The Ransom of Red Chief" do you feel sympathy for?

Quick answer:

The majority of readers sympathize with Bill Driscoll in "The Ransom of the Red Chief" because he suffers a significant amount of physical and mental abuse at the hands of Johnny Dorset. Johnny is able to break Bill's spirit by continually torturing him to the point that Bill gives up on their ransom scheme and begs Sam to send Johnny back to his father.

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In O. Henry's classic short story "The Ransom of Red Chief," the audience sympathizes the most with Sam's unlucky partner, Bill Driscoll, who is physically and mentally abused by the rambunctious, violent ten-year-old Johnny Dorset. In the story, Sam and Bill kidnap Johnny Dorset from the sleepy town of Summit and hold him ransom in a nearby cave in hopes of securing fifteen hundred dollars from his wealthy father.

Immediately after being kidnapped, the energetic, fearless boy begins to abuse Bill. Johnny begins by hitting Bill in the eye with a piece of brick and puts up a serious fight when the kidnappers attempt to drag him away. Once they transport Johnny to a nearby cave, he begins playing Indian and pretends to be Red Chief. Johnny makes Bill play the role of Old Hank and proceeds to abuse him by kicking him in the shins and threatening to scalp him.

The next morning, Sam wakes up to Bill's screams and witnesses Johnny attempting to scalp him using their sharp case-knife. Fortunately, Sam is able to wrestle the knife from the boy but Bill's spirit is completely broken. As the story progresses, Johnny continues to torture and abuse Bill by putting a red-hot boiled potato down his back, firing rocks at his head using a slingshot, and mercilessly riding on his back during his pretend game.

Bill cannot endure the constant abuse and lives in fear around Johnny. Bill begins begging Sam to bring Johnny home and completely gives up on their ransom scheme. Ironically, the audience sympathizes with the kidnappers, who become the victims and eventually pay Johnny's father to take him back.

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