The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry
In The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry we have the theme of exhaustion, control, hyperactivity, justice and innocence. Taken from his Selected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Sam (kidnapper) and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Sam and Bill, particular Bill, are mentally exhausted while they are looking after Johnny (Red Chief). They are not able to control or monitor Johnny in anyway. If anything it is Johnny who is controlling the situation he finds himself in. It is also difficult to say as to whether Johnny realises he has been kidnapped. He views Bill after all as a play mate. Someone who can join in with him with the games he plays. However Bill is not up to playing with Johnny and if anything wants to send Johnny back home to his father. It is Sam who is more determined to get the ransom for Johnny. Sam also seems to be fortunate that Johnny has picked Bill to play with and definitely has the easier of times when it comes to Johnny’s activities.
There also seems to be a degree of justice in the story when Johnny turns the tables on Sam and Bill. As mentioned he is the one who is in control. It is also ironic that two kidnappers who kidnap a young boy end up paying the boy’s father money to take his son back. In reality this is ridiculous. Which may have been Henry’s intention. It is also interesting that for the level of crime committed there is no violence unless one takes into consideration how Bill feels about Johnny. The setting may also be significant as Henry sets the story in small town middle America. It could be anywhere in America and in many ways Summit defines America and the resilience that comes with being American. Though Johnny may not be free everybody else is and as mentioned Johnny is clueless about the fact he is has been kidnapped and if anything may be freer than he has ever been before. It is possible that Henry is suggesting that the American character is resilient (Johnny and his father).
The language used, particular by Sam, is important. It is simple and allows for the reader to explore Sam’s mind. Likewise with Bill. He is angry all the time and he may have every reason to be but he shows just two emotions anger and panic when he wants to offload Johnny back to his father. The fact that Sam leaves the cave so often might also be important as it allows for the reader to witness the hilarity of what is occurring between Johnny and Bill. There is no disputing that Bill is unable to handle a nine year old boy. It is also clear that the story falls under the genre of comedy led by Johnny’s treatment of Bill. Henry also manages to get the reader to feel sorry for Sam and Bill even though they are criminals. If anything the reader wants Sam and Bill to get the ransom. Even if they have no good intentions and plan on scamming people with the ransom that they think they will get.
The style of writing employed in the story is also important. There is a familiarity with it. It is as though Sam is telling the story to an old friend. Rather than saying ‘Bill and I’ he uses ‘Bill and me.’ It is as though you are sitting beside Sam when he is talking such is the familiarity. Though Sam and Bill are on the wrong side of the law it is not in a malicious way. You don’t expect a criminal to be innocent but Sam and Bill are when it comes to handling Johnny. Johnny plays and takes the lead at all times. As does his father when he suggests that Sam and Bill pay him to take Johnny back. This could play on the idea of the American spirit and the fact neither Johnny or his father will be defeated. The end of the story also leaves the reader with mixed feelings. Some readers will be glad that Johnny has been returned to his father while other readers will continue to have sympathy for the hapless Sam and Bill. However regardless of the ending Henry does manage to leave the reader thinking about what has happened.