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The Ransom of Red Chief

by O. Henry

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Student Question

Why do Bill and Sam agree to Mr. Dorset's terms in "The Ransom of Red Chief?"

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Bill and Sam kidnapped "Red Chief" so they could get the two thousand dollars they needed to pull off another scheme in Illinois. The boy is so rambunctious and annoying that Bill can barely stand it. In fact, at one point, Bill actually tries to return the boy while Sam is sending out the ransom note. But the boy returns. It becomes clear to Bill and Sam that the boy is unbearable. This is a satire of how energetic young children can be. It is an example of hyperbole (exaggeration) that the boy would be so annoying that his captors would be willing to give up the plan to get a ransom and would rather just get rid of the kid. 

The bottom line is that Bill just couldn't handle looking after the kid anymore. 

I tell you, Sam, a human can only stand so much. I takes him by the neck of his clothes and drags him down the mountain. On the way he kicks my legs black-and-blue from the knees down; and I've got to have two or three bites on my thumb and hand cauterized. 

In the end, they are not surprised that Mr. Dorset turns the tables and asks them for money. Again, this is satire, but remember that Bill tried and could not get rid of Red Chief. So, they agree to pay Mr. Dorset: a comedic reversal of the concept of a ransom/kidnapping scheme. 

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Why do Bill and Sam agree to the terms of Mr. Dorset's letter in "The Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry?

In "The Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry, Sam and Bill hold a little boy for a ransom of $1500.00, but in the end, they pay the boy's father $250.00 to take him back. Why would they go through all that planning and all that trouble to pay Johnny's father in the end? 

First of all, Sam and Bill had no idea what they were getting into when they kidnapped Johnny Dorset. Right away, he started a game of "Indian" in which he was Red Chief, Bill was renamed Old Hank the Trapper, and Sam became Snake-eye the Spy. Poor Bill ends up being tortured by this boy whenever Sam is away, and by the end of the story, he's had to be a horse for Red Chief, he's almost been scalped, he's been hit in the side of the head with a rock, and he's had a just boiled potato shoved down his shirt.

So, when the men receive the letter from Mr. Dorset, telling them he will take Johnny back for $250.00, Bill is more than ready to give it to him.

"Sam," says he, "what's two hundred and fifty dollars, after all?  We've got the money. One more night of this kid will send me to a bed in Bedlam."

Sam agrees, and they pay the money.

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