The Ransom of the Red Chief: O. Henry’s Best Surprise Ending

O. Henry is known for his great surprise endings in his stories. Which story has a better surprise ending, “The Ransom of the Red Chief”, or “The Gift of the Magi”?

“When the kid found out we were going to leave him at home he started up a howl like a calliope and fastened himself as tight as a leech to Bill’s leg. His father peeled him away gradually, like a porous plaster.” O. Henry is known for writing stories with great surprise endings. O. Henry’s best story is The Ransom of the RedChief for three main reasons. One, the way the story is set up, two, the events when Sam and Bill kidnap “Red Chief”, or Johnny Dorset, and lastly, how Red Chief harasses Bill throughout the story and how Bill reacts.

O. Henry sets up The Ransom of the Red Chief perfectly to end the story with a surprise. The author introduces the reader to Sam and Bill as two men desperate for money that have gone to the extreme to get money before. Bill and Sam start out the story with about 600 American dollars. In the next paragraphs, Sam and Bill discuss who the two should kidnap. The men decide on Ebenezer Dorset’s son, Johnny Dorset, because Ebenezer is a wealthy man and a cruel tax collector. Sam and Bill believe the tax collector will give in to the ransom and pay up any some of money.

The reader is now starting to believe Sam and Bill may just get there ransom, but the reader may not be totally convinced yet. To convince the reader, O. Henry adds even more to the story. The author depicts Johnny Dorset outside throwing rocks at a lonely kitten resting on a fence post when Sam and Bill lurk in for the snatch. Bill has to wrestle with Jonny to get him in the car, but Bill eventually accomplishes his task. At this moment in the story, the reader is probably almost totally convinced that Sam and Bill will succeed, and if O. Henry were to provide one more event, the reader would go over the line. That is exactly what the author does. O. Henry writes about how Bill is examining his cuts and bruises from trying to get Jonny in the car.

This is the point in the story where it starts to turn slightly. When Sam returns to the cave, Johnny, now known as Red Chief, was playing Indian with Bill and was having a lot of fun. Red Chief was laughing and everything. Later that night, Sam wakes up to Bill’s scream. Jonny is atop Bill’s chest with a fistful of Bill’s hair and a knife about to take Bill’s scalp. The next day when Sam returns again, Red Chief has Bill up against the wall and Johnny has a rock the size of a coconut about to smash Bill’s head. All of these events are leading up to one important event. The last event that puts Bill over the edge is when Jonny makes Bill play Black Scout with him. Bill freaks out and shows Johnny the road home, but Red Chief returns to the cave shortly after Bill gets back. Johnny won’t leave. Sam and Bill are ready to get rid of Jonny. The two desperate men write to Ebenezer, they demand 1500 dollars. In return, Ebenezer demands his son’s return at night, along with 250 dollars. Sam and Bill give in because the two have had enough of Johnny.

The ending in The Ransom of the Red Chief was a lot more surprising than The Gift of the Magi in many ways. The biggest reason was the way O. Henry set up The Ransom of the Red Chief versus the way the author set up The Gift of the Magi. In conclusion, The Ransom of the Red Chief overall had a better ending. Even though The Gift of the Magi had somewhat of a surprise ending, there was a lot of foreshadowing that foretold the ending.

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  1. tom
    Posted April 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    well that very inspirational like o henry was. good job senor

  2. Lisa
    Posted April 5, 2009 at 4:55 pm


  3. Lady Lady
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Woah there!

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