The Ransom of the Red Chief, by O. Henry is a short story depicting the encounters of Bill Droscol and his companion Sam. In bid to raise money for their business setup, Bill conceives an idea of kidnapping to raise quick money through ransom. As a result, they settle on a young boy Johnny Dorset. The only boy from a wealthy member of the Summit community was believed to fetch good ransom for Bill and Sam. Ironically, the young boy turns round the events and through his farther forces the kidnappers to pay back his parents for kidnapping him. The boy whom Sam believed was defenseless turns out to be more dangerous than they thought as he tormented them verbally and physically assaulted them. The initially perceived to be profitable kidnapping turned out into a huge loss as Bill and Sam lost half of their revenue instead of receiving more money as earlier anticipated. Therefore, the theme that everything is not exactly what it appears to be thus life cannot be predictable, is well illustrated through irony, setting and allusion whereby things did not turn out well for the villains Sam and Bill as anticipated.
The writer makes use of irony in revealing the theme that everything is not exactly what it appears to be thus life cannot be predictable. Sam, the narrator of the story describes how his companion Bill Driscoll through a "moment of temporary mental apparition" came up with an idea that seemed too good to be true to both. Being in dire need of money, Sam and Bill sought ways on how to increase their income. Therefore, the idea of kidnapping to acquire quick cash through ransom seemed to be an excellent idea to both. Bill and Sam settled on a Summit that was considered to contain "inhabitants of as harm less and self-satisfied a class of peasantry as ever" Henry 5). The phrase is a situational irony that contributes to the development of the theme. The thought that the townsmen were harmless augmented Sam and Bill's idea of kidnapping in order to acquire money. However, as revealed later in the story, the town men were not as harmless as they appeared to be.
The boy settled for was an only child to one of the most prominent people in the Summit. Ebenezer Dorset a mortgage fancier was believed to be "respectable and tight" (Henry 5). Therefore, Bill and Sam believed that Dorset would quickly grant their ransom demands to have his son back. Ironically as revealed later, Dorset turned out to be more canning than the kidnappers when he demanded two hundred and fifty dollars from them to have his son back. Believing that giving out two hundred and fifty thousand dollars would usher in more money in their way. "I think Mr. Dorset is a spendthrift for making such a liberal offer. You ain't going to let the chance go?" (Henry 20). Ironically, Bill and Sam were forced to pay Ransom to Mr. Dorset for kidnapping his son instead of the duo receiving ransom from Mr. Dorset to have his son back. The theme of deceptive appearance is well highlighted in the manner in which the ransom payment was done; whereby it was the kidnappers who paid ransom to deliver the kidnapped child to her parents instead of the parents paying ransom to have their child back. Life is not predictable and the enthusiasm or receiving quick cash trough kidnapping turned sour when Sam and Bill had to lose money to pay for their deeds.
The setting of the story tremendously contributes towards the development of the theme that everything is not exactly what it appears to be thus life cannot be predictable. The idea of kidnapping in order to raise capital for business set up was triggered by the setting in which Bill and Sam were in. Sam and Bill considered the people of Summit to be of no harm since majority of the population was made up of poor men. Sam and Bill undermined the potential of the people of summit by stating that the people could not afford a strong force enough to counter them (Henry 5). Perceiving that everything was going to work their way, Sam and Bill settled for a ten year boy whom they believed was humble and harmless; therefore his farther Mr. Dorset would be quick in giving out the ransom to have his son back.
The second setting in the caves enhances the theme developments as the kid napped boy-red chief, declares his enthusiasm of spending the night in a cave as he has never camped before. The declaration makes Bill and Sam to relax in thinking that he would dare make an escape. In the cave, Red Chief boldly declares how his father's got a lot of money and that his home being a boring place, he is happy to stay in the cave (Henry 8). Sam and Bill undermined Red Chief's potential; therefore it was a revelation to find him seated on Bill's chest daring to cut of Bill's scalp. The boy whom they believed to be humble and defenseless turned to be stronger than each of them individually. Red Chief turned out to be harmful as he tortured his captors verbally as well as physically.
Allusion is used to extensively develop the plot and enhance humor within the story. The father of the child who is kidnapped is allured as Ebenezer; the term is Biblical meaning God provides and indeed Mr. Ebenezer is a wealth man. The professional and economic activities that Mr. Dorset engages in creates a parody of the allured name since Ebenezer must mean free to give without receiving, on other hand he is more or less of a tax collector; a profession that is stereotyped to host conmen. Nevertheless, he cons Bill and Sam $250 dollars during the night instead of paying these conmen their ransom. The Biblical David and Goliath are equally allured to represent the slung that Red Chief used to knock out Bill. It is ironical that Red Chief the kidnapped child knocks Bill who is his kidnapper.
Symbolism is used in names to define character as well as to foreshadow the plot of the story. Herod is allured in the story to create a sense of desire to revenge. After being hit by an egg sized rock that was slung by Red Chief, Bill fell into hot coffee water incurring burns that took Sam half an hour to nurse. When Bill final awoke he insisted that he would kill Red Chief to avenge for the injuries sustained by allusively claiming that his favorite character in the Bible was King Herod because he equally killed children. Snake is used a symbol of wickedness; Red Chief brands Sam as a Snake-eye to reveal the wicked greed and alert nature to scout their hideout for safety.
The name Bill creates a connotation of a Billy Goat that stereotypical symbolize Bill's stupid and gullible nature to outdo a 10 year old boy. Symbolism of names creates parody and enhances development of the plot. For instance Bill is hit by a brick, thrown into fire and burns in water by the mischief of Red Chief. The name Red Chief depicts violent action and it fits the character of the child who is kidnapped.
The violent character of Red Chief enables him to stand as a towering character in the story being able to control and manipulate his kidnappers to either play his games or face body injuries. Red Chief is brave and domineering over Bill and Sam throughout the story making a mockery of Bill and Sam's capability to handle adult persons in a similar situation. Bill questions Sam if any parents would ideally accommodate the kind of games that Red Chief engaged them like burning such that made a conclusion to reduce their ransom from $2000 to $1500. The bargain was attractive to Sam who had already disapproved Red Chief as a child who parents can become extremely unfound of because of his violent games. Therefore, the plot
Conclusively, the theme that everything is not exactly what it appears to be thus life cannot be predictable, is well illustrated through irony, setting and allusion whereby things did not turn out well for the villains Sam and Bill as anticipated. Bill and Sam ended up losing half of their wealth instead of gaining more as anticipated through their kidnapping plan. All of Sam and Bill's plans went sour as they ended up losing their cash and dignity.