The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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What makes Bill Driscoll humorous in "The Ransom of Red Chief?"

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"The Ransom of Red Chief" is a story of ironic reversal. Sam and Bill kidnap Johnny, "Red Chief," in hopes of getting a ransom reward. But Red Chief is so rambunctious and annoying, it is as if he is the kidnapper and Bill is his captive. Sam manages to evade Red Chief's wrath. And that leaves Bill to receive the full brunt of essentially being Red Chief's playmate and punching bag. This story is a lot like the movie Home Alone where the hapless burglars are outsmarted by a child. In the end, Red Chief is so unmanageable, that Bill and Sam actually agree to pay Mr. Dorset to get him off of their hands. This, of course, is the ironic reversal. Rather than collect a ransom for a loved child, Bill and Sam end up paying the father to take the problem child back. 

Bill is Red Chief's punching bag and the source of mostly physical comedy. It gets so bad that Bill is afraid of being left alone with Red Chief. When Sam returns from delivering the ransom note, Bill has given up and sent Red Chief home: 

All is off. There was martyrs in old times," goes on Bill, "that suffered death rather than give up the particular graft they enjoyed. None of 'em ever was subjugated to such supernatural tortures as I have been. I tried to be faithful to our articles of depredation; but there came a limit." 

Comparing himself to a martyr, this is such a dramatic speech coming from a man who simply couldn't control a child. But once again, the joke is on Bill because Red Chief returns to the camp. When they read Mr. Dorset's counter offer, that they pay him, Sam recognizes Bill is finally at peace. "He had the most appealing look in his eyes I ever saw on the face of a dumb or a talking brute." 

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