Here, you will find a summary and questions/answers to the story “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry which is a part of the Class 12 syllabus for students studying under Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE).
Summary: In the story “The Ransom of Red Chief”, Sam and Bill, two minor criminals, kidnap Johnny, the 10-year-old red-haired son of Ebenezer Dorset, a prominent citizen, for ransom. However, as soon as the kidnappers arrive at the hideout with the boy, the boy begins to enjoy them. He calls himself “Red Chief,” and continues to annoy his captors with his constant chatter, malicious pranks, and demands they play tiresome games with him, like riding 90 miles on his back while pretending to be an Indian scout.
They write a ransom note to the boy’s father demanding $2,000 but later lowers the ransom amount from $2,000 to $1,500, believing that the father will not pay the amount. Because the father understands how intolerable his son is and how eager his captors will be to escape the unruly child, he turns down their offer and offers to take him off their hands for $250. The men hand over the money and the boy to the father and flee from the scene.
The irony in the story “The Ransom of Red Chief” is that the kidnappers had to pay the father to return his son instead of getting the ransom money.
A. Answer with reference to the context
1. ‘That will cost the old man an extra five hundred dollars.’
a. Who says this?
b. When does he say it?
c. Why does he want to charge extra?
Answer: a. The words were spoken by Bill.
b. Bill said these words when the boy hit him in the eye with a piece of brick while he and Sam were trying to kidnap him.
c. The boy had hit him with a piece of brick in his eye, thereby hurting him. Therefore, he wanted to charge extra.
2. ‘ … the wolves have borne away the tender lambkin from the fold. Heaven help the wolves!’
a. Who are the wolves and who’s the lamb?
b. Why does the speaker beseech help for the wolves?
c. Do you agree with him on this?
Answer: (a) The wolves refer to the kidnappers, Bill and Sam, and the lamb refers to Johnny who has been kidnapped.
(b) Because the speaker had already witnessed the pranks of the boy, the speaker sought help for the Wolves. The kidnappers had seen what the boy could do and the villagers did not yet know about the kidnapping.
(c) Yes, I agree with him on this, as both Sam and Bill had been terrorized by the boy, especially Bill, from the start. The boy was true to his word with his pranks and this made the kidnappers nervous and afraid of him.
3. ‘A rowdy kid like that is just the kind that parents dote on.’
a. Who says this?
b. When does he say this?
c. Do you think that it’s the right approach to dote on children like these?
Answer: (a) Sam said this line.
(b) He said this when the boy played pranks on them and they became targets. Having become doubtful about the kidnapping, Bill wondered if anyone would be prepared to pay any money at all to get him back home.
(c) No, the approach was not right. The kidnappers should have turned to other options instead of putting the boy in danger.
B. Answer these questions
1. Why did the narrator and his accomplice plan the kidnapping?
Answer: The narrator and his accomplice planned for a kidnapping in order to get money for an illegal land deal in Illinois as they had only six hundred dollars with them and needed more.
2. Whom did Sam and Bill choose to be their victim and why?
Answer: Sam and Bill choose their victim as the son of an influential citizen of the town summit called Ebenezer Dorset. The name of the son was Johnny.
3. What was the child doing when Bill and Sam saw him for the first time?
Answer: When Bill and Sam saw the child for the first time he was throwing rocks at a cat on the other side of the fence.
4. What did the boy call himself while playing with Bill?
Answer: While playing with Bill the boy called himself Red Chief, the terror of the plains.
5. Why doesn’t the child want to go home?
Answer: The child doesn’t want to go to school, so he doesn’t want to go home. Further on, he liked camping outside so much that he does not have much fun at home.
6. What did Sam see when he was awakened by a
series of terrible screams from Bill?
Answer: Sam awoke to hear Bill’s awful screams, and saw the boy sitting on Bill’s chest, swinging a knife on one hand and tightly holding his hair on the other. His intention was to cut off Bill’s head’s top, as he had said the night before.
7. Why did Bill ask Sam for a gun?
Answer: Bill was tired of the boy’s scary pranks. When the boy smashed a red hot potato down his back, he lost patience. It was getting frustrating for him, so he decided to shoot the boy.
8. Why did Sam have to shake the boy? What was the consequence thereof?
Answer: Sam shook the boy after the boy attacked Bill by throwing stones, causing Bill to fall into the fire across the frying pan of hot water.
They threatened to send the boy home if he didn’t change his behavior and reduced the ransom price.
9. Why do you think Sam agreed to lower the ransom amount?
Answer: Sam decided to lower the ransom amount because it became apparent that no one would pay such a high ransom amount for the boy, so he agreed to Bill’s proposal.
10. What did Sam want to hear while at the post office? Was he satisfied?
Answer: While he was visiting the Post Office, Sam wanted to hear people gossip about the kidnapping of the boy.
He was satisfied with the news that all the people were worried that Ebenezer Dorset’s son had gone missing or was stolen.
11. How did the boy’s father respond to the letter sent by the kidnappers? Do you find this funny? Why?
Answer: In the story “The Ransom of Red Chief”, the boy’s father responded with a counter-proposal, asking the kidnappers to bring his son home and pay him instead 250 dollars.
Ebenezer’s response is funny since he is supposed to be concerned about his son and give them the ransom that has been demanded, however, knowing his son’s personality, he decides to ask for money from the kidnappers instead.
12. What was the excuse Bill and Sam made up to convince the boy to go home?
Answer: Bill and Sam told the boy that his father had bought him a gun and that they were going to hunt bears the next day. Thus, they convinced the boy to go home.
C. Think and answer
1. On the basis of the story you have read, write a character sketch of the boy.
Answer: In the story “The Ransom of Red Chief”, Sam and Bill kidnapped Johnny Dorset, a ten-year-old boy, for ransom. A well-known town official, Ebenezer Dorset is his father. As soon as Red Chief is introduced as casually “throwing rocks at a kitten,” he “neatly catches Bill in the eye with a piece of brick.” This has already shown the reader that Red Chief is not your average young boy.
Johnny takes charge of the situation when he is kidnapped; he directs Sam and Bill in a role-playing game and terrorizes them with real and imagined threats. Johnny appears to be troubled, unsympathetic, but it becomes clear as the story goes on that he is imaginative and wants attention. Red Chief, Johnny’s alias, adapts to the role of Indian with Sam and Bill.
The burden of Johnny’s care falls primarily on Bill, and he makes Johnny a playmate, enduring Johnny’s abuse without complaint and delighting him with his games. He enjoys playing with Bill and Sam and going camping with them. Johnny even says of his confinement, “I like this fine.”
The men take Johnny back to his father after spending a few days in the cave, paying Ebenezer rather than receiving ransom money. After being reunited with his father, Johnny, now dissatisfied that his kidnapping is over, clings to Bill’s legs.
2. What was Bill’s response to the old man’s letter to them? What does his response tell you about his state of mind?
Answer: In the story “The Ransom of Red Chief”, to free the kidnappers from the boy, the old man offered them two hundred fifty dollars in response to the ransom letter. After reading the letter, Sam was angry, but Bill’s eyes had a pleasing look in them. As the boy was driving him crazy, he told Sam they should give Mr Dorset the money. It seemed like nothing to him, and he said Mr Dorset made a decent offer. He didn’t want Sam to miss out on this opportunity.
He is in a great deal of distress after suffering for so long and now he begs Sam to take this deal and bring an end to his pain. He had enough of the pranks the boy was playing on him.
3. Why does Bill ask Sam to reduce the ransom amount? How do Bill and Sam finally get rid of Red Chief?
Answer: Rather than demand a large ransom, Bill urged Sam to reduce it as he assumed nobody would pay to bring Johnny back home. Johnny pulled a lot of pranks on his kidnappers, in particular Bill, and he sought the boy’s return to his parents as soon as possible.
At the end of the story “The Ransom of Red Chief”, Bill and Sam paid 250 dollars to Red Chief’s father to get him out of their lives. In order to get the boy back from the kidnappers, the boy’s father requested that they pay him instead of paying the ransom. Bill convinced Sam to accept the old man’s response, and the two informed Johnny that his father had bought him a gun and they would go out the next day to hunt bears. Johnny and the kidnappers went to Mr Dorset’s house at midnight and delivered the money to him. When the boy found out that Sam and Bill were leaving him at home, he howled and clung tightly to Bill’s leg. His father slowly took him away, while the kidnappers ran as quickly as they could.
4. Do you find the child’s behaviour strange when Bill and Sam first see him? Write a detailed note on at least two of the pranks Red Chief played on his captors.
Answer: We were puzzled at the child’s behaviour when Bill and Sam first saw him in the story “The Ransom of Red Chief”. The boy hit Bill Driscoll in the eyes with a brick after he offered him candy and offered him a ride. The two men began to fight when the boy entered the carriage with the two men.
The pranks Johnny Dorset played on Bill were particularly notable, when he disguised himself as Red Chief and Bill as Old Hank the Trapper, who was Red Chief’s captive. The following two pranks were played on his captors:
Sam noticed Red Chief sitting on Bill’s chest, one hand holding Bill’s hair. He had a sharp knife in the other. Red Chief was attempting to take Bill’s scalp as a punishment for an offender, as he had declared while playing Indian.
Sam climbs to the mountain’s summit to see if the villagers have begun searching for the missing boy. When he arrives at the cave, he finds Bill breathing heavily and the boy threatening to hit him with a rock. He claimed the boy shoved a red hot potato down his back and crushed it with his foot.
D. Irony is a surprising contrast between what is expected and what actually happens. Write a few lines on how the writer uses irony to bring out the humour in this story.
Answer: “The Ransom of Red Chief” is ironic since its outcome is the opposite of what the reader might expect. The story contains a significant amount of situational irony. As the readers, the kidnappers thought the boy would want to go home, but he had a great time with them and refused to leave. This story is set in the small town of Summit, which is “as flat as a flannel-cake.” Flannel cake is another word for pancake, while summit implies an elevation, but the town is in fact very low. The story depicts the kidnapped boy as being much more dangerous than the kidnappers and the kidnappers instead of getting the ransom paid money to the so-called victim’s father to get the boy out of their lives.
Ron’e Dutta is the Co-Founder and Editor of Online Free Notes. He is a journalist, a blogger, a creative writer, and a teacher. He is currently writing his first thriller novel on time-travelling. Read the prologue of the novel here. Connect with him on social media.