The Ransom of the Red Chief by O Henry: Summary and Review

The Ransom of the Red Chief by o henry plot summary analysis and review

In 10 minutes, I shall cross the central, southern, and middle western states and be legging it trippingly for the Canadian border.

What comes to mind when you read this? Hot air balloons? Spaceships? Science fiction?

The answer will come to you in the form of Ransom of the Red Chief, a short story by celebrated American author William Sidney Porter, commonly known as O.Henry. 

First published in Saturday Evening Post in 1907, this story captures, in its very essence, a kidnapping gone awry.

Ransom of the Red Chief: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with a scheme. A scheme, in the making, by two small-time criminals – Sam, the mastermind, also the narrator of the story, and Bill, his accomplice.

Their scheme to make a quick buck is simple – kidnapping a wealthy man’s kid and demanding ransom for his release.

The boy’s father is Ebenezer Dorset, a respectable mortgage fancier and forecloser.

The execution of the scheme is even simpler than the kidnapping plan – Bill and Sam, in their buggy, entice the boy with a promise of a bag of candies and a nice ride.

The plan is executed successfully.

Kidnappers and the boy reach their hideout soon after, and that’s when the early signs of the plan’s unraveling are seen. Instead of being scared, the boy enjoys the company of his kidnappers. It does not take long for the boy’s role-playing and demands to surface.

The first role he plays is of the Red Chief, the terror of the plains, unleashing the terror, true to its name.

When not terrorizing Bill and Sam, he frustrates them with his constant chatter and relentless and mostly unreasonable demands and pranks – a couple of which are to ride on Bill as if he was a horse, for 90 miles no less and scalping Bill for real, pulling his hair out with all his might.

The role playing, fun for the boy, is a disaster for the kidnappers.

The kidnappers, eager to rid themselves of this liability/threat to their life, soon plan to reach out to Mr. Dorset, letting him know that he was being held for ransom and that no harm would befall the kid if the father provided them with 1500 dollars peacefully.

Little did they know the response to their letter would be an extension of their nightmare.

Fully aware of the boy’s intolerable, patience-thinning talents, the father, instead of sending the required sum, offers to take the child off the kidnapper’s hands – if they paid him $250.

The harrowed kidnappers, eager to rid themselves of this living nightmare, jump on the offer, and proceed for a swift handover – of the money and the boy.

The boy, funnily enough, tries to cling to the kidnappers instead of his own father.

The Ransom of the Red Chief: Review and My Thoughts

This brought back memories of one of my Christmas favorite movies, Home Alone #3. I always marvel at how talented the kid was at protecting himself- his insane knowledge of physics behind all the levers and pulleys used for trapping his victims would put my whole eighth-grade physics class to shame. 

But O.Henry’s Red chief was a class apart. He made me believe you don’t need intelligence to drive someone insane. Non-stop blabbering and treating adults as enslaved people is good enough.

I just loved the boy’s character. He knew no fear. Instead of being scared for his life and crying his eyes out, he had a lot of fun in addition to showing his kidnappers some great time. He made the most of his ‘trip,’ doing nothing else but being himself. 

Talk about seeing the glass half full!

There is a very famous quote by Dickens “Child is the father of the man.”

I can’t say about anyone else, but this Red Chief definitely is.


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