Literature · Short Stories

The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry (Short Story Analysis)


Red Cheif

It’s a long thought about dilemma – what if a kidnapped child was so bratty and obnoxious that his/her abductors returned them. Well, O. Henry’s short story brings this scenario into play.

In the story, the kidnappers are two desperate men named Sam and Bill. Sam is the narrator of the story. They are in need of money and so kidnap the red-headed son of a wealthy man in town named Ebenezer Dorset. When they first meet the boy, he’s throwing rocks at kittens. Which should have been a clear sign that this wasn’t some nice sweet boy. Especially since the boy also hits Bill in the eye with a brick.

The boy later subjects Bill to plenty of other abuse as well. During the kidnapping the kid is basically having the time of his life – at his abductors’ expense.

This humorous story makes me think if their could be a situation like the one presented. Kidnappers returning a kid because he was so bratty and not receiving anything in return – could it happen? I know people just say it as a joke but I still wonder.

But first I would like to explore another question – is Johnny Dorset aka Red Chief bad enough? I ask this because I have seen some bad kids that would make Red Chief look like nothing. He’s rambunctious and asks a lot of questions, that’s not too unusual.

His physical abuse of Bill is what puts him in the extreme category. At one point he leaves the man a screaming mess: “It was an awful thing to hear a strong, desperate fat man scream incontinently in a cave at daybreak.” And, Red Chief’s behavior would probably be even worse for two people who have not dealt with kids before.

However, I suppose I was hoping for an even more extreme case of a misbehaved child.

But onto the main question the story brings to mind: Would the kidnappers return the boy in a real life scenario? It really depends on what sort of offenders you were dealing with. Those in O. Henry’s story are pretty much buffoons.

Imagine the result of more violent and competent abductors. So, in the end I’d say the “bratty child returned” trope only has its place in humor.

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