The Ransom of Red Chief

Johnny Character Analysis

Johnny Dorset is the ten-year-old boy whom Sam and Bill kidnap for ransom money. He is the son of Ebenezer Dorset, a prominent townsperson who, it is implied, has been a cold and negligent father to Johnny. Ebenezer’s cruelty has perhaps influenced Johnny’s behavior, as Johnny does things like throw rocks at kittens, physically abuse his captors, and humiliate them. Indeed, upon being kidnapped, Johnny takes charge of the situation, directing Sam and Bill in various avenues of play and terrorizing them with threats real and imagined. While Johnny at first seems troubled and unsympathetic, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he is imaginative and starved for attention amidst a difficult childhood. Johnny has a powerful imaginative streak, and he roleplays cowboys and Indians with Bill and Sam, taking on the alter ego of Red Chief (a trope now considered racist but which was common and widely-accepted when the story was written). Bill, in particular, bears the burden of Johnny’s care, and he becomes a constant playmate for Johnny, taking Johnny’s abuse with few complaints and delighting Johnny with their games. Playing and camping with Bill and Sam bring a joy to Johnny that seems to have been absent in his family life with his father—Johnny even says of his captivity that “I like this fine. I never camped out before.” After a few days in the cave, the men finally bring Johnny back to his father, paying Ebenezer to take his rambunctious son back rather than receiving ransom money themselves. Reunited, Johnny clings not to his father, but to Bill’s legs, unhappy that his abduction is at an end.

Johnny Quotes in The Ransom of Red Chief

The The Ransom of Red Chief quotes below are all either spoken by Johnny or refer to Johnny . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Modern Library edition of The Ransom of Red Chief published in 1994.
The Ransom of Red Chief Quotes

The father was respectable and tight, a mortgage fancier and a stern, upright collection-plate passer and forecloser.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Johnny , Bill Driscoll , Ebenezer Dorset
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Ransom of Red Chief quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

“He's all right now…We're playing Indian.”

Related Characters: Bill Driscoll (speaker), Sam , Johnny
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“I like this fine. I never camped out before.”

Related Characters: Johnny (speaker), Sam , Bill Driscoll
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

[T]hey were simply indecent, terrifying, humiliating screams, such as women emit when they see ghosts or caterpillars. It's an awful thing to hear a strong, desperate, fat man scream incontinently in a cave at daybreak.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Johnny , Bill Driscoll
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I expected to see the sturdy yeomanry of the village armed with scythes and pitchforks beating the countryside for the dastardly kidnappers… There was a sylvan attitude of somnolent sleepiness pervading that section of the external outward surface of Alabama that lay exposed to my view.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Johnny , Bill Driscoll
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I never lost my nerve yet till we kidnapped that two-legged skyrocket of a kid... it ain't human for anybody to give up two thousand dollars for that forty-pound chunk of freckled wildcat.

Related Characters: Bill Driscoll (speaker), Sam , Johnny , Ebenezer Dorset
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“You are the hoss,” says Black Scout. “Get down on your hands and knees. How can I ride to the stockade without a hoss?”

“You’d better keep him interested,” said I, “till we get the scheme going. Loosen up.”

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Johnny (speaker), Bill Driscoll
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“The boy is gone. I have sent him home. All is off. There was martyrs in old times…that suffered death rather than give up the particular graft they enjoyed. None of 'em ever was subjugated to such supernatural tortures as I have been.”

Related Characters: Bill Driscoll (speaker), Sam , Johnny
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Bill turns and sees the boy, and loses his complexion and sits down plump on the ground and begins to pluck aimlessly at grass and little sticks. For an hour I was afraid for his mind. And then I told him that my scheme was to put the whole job through immediately…

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Johnny , Bill Driscoll
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I think you are a little high in your demands, and I hereby make you a counter-proposition, which I am inclined to believe you will accept. You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Dorset (speaker), Sam , Johnny , Bill Driscoll
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

We took him home that night. We got him to go by telling him that his father had bought a silver-mounted rifle and a pair of moccasins for him, and we were going to hunt bears the next day.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Johnny , Bill Driscoll , Ebenezer Dorset
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Johnny , Bill Driscoll , Ebenezer Dorset
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The Ransom of Red Chief LitChart as a printable PDF.
The ransom of red chief.pdf.medium

Johnny Character Timeline in The Ransom of Red Chief

The timeline below shows where the character Johnny appears in The Ransom of Red Chief. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Ransom of Red Chief
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam and Bill select as their victim Johnny Dorset, the ten year old red-haired only child of “prominent citizen” Ebenezer Dorset. Ebenezer is... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Bill vows that the brick will cost Johnny’s father an extra $500 ransom as they wrestle Johnny into the buggy. The boy struggles... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
...and bruises, but the scene is calm with a fire and a pot of coffee. Johnny has “two buzzard tailfeathers stuck in his red hair.” Bill explains, “We’re playing Indian,” and... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Johnny says he’s never camped before, he had a possum, he hates school, and a rat... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Sam and Bill go to sleep with Johnny between them, not afraid he will run away. He continues to play his fantasy for... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam takes the knife from Johnny and makes him lay down, but Bill is shaken and doesn’t sleep. Sam dozes for... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
...for kidnappers, but instead all is peaceful across the landscape. He likens his capture of Johnny to wolves taking a lamb, but doubt creeps into his mind as he thinks, “Heaven... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
After breakfast, Johnny takes a leather slingshot and goes out of the cave. Bill is worried, wondering what... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
...King who doubts Jesus and turns him over to the Romans for execution. Sam grabs Johnny and shakes him, reprimands him, and then threatens to take the boy home if he... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
After Bill and Johnny shake hands, Sam tells Bill they should send the “peremptory” ransom note to Ebenezer. Bill... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam writes the letter to Ebenezer asking for $1500 in large bills in exchange for his son. The answer is to... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Sam tells Johnny that Bill will play his new game, warning Bill that he should keep the child... (full context)
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
...the neighboring town of Poplar Cove and overhears someone saying all Summit is upset because Johnny has gone missing. Satisfied that the plan is finally working, Sam posts his ransom note... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Bill apologizes to Sam for having sent Johnny home, but declares he could no longer endure the hardship of caring for him as... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam asks Bill to turn around and see that Johnny has been following behind him all along. Bill sees him and sits down in resignation,... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam climbs the tree above the arranged drop off location to await Ebenezer’s answer. At the appointed time, a young messenger rides up on a bicycle, slips a... (full context)
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Ebenezer’s letter declares that Sam’s ransom demand is too high, and he makes a counter-proposition: they... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam is shocked at the audacity of Ebenezer’s response, but Bill is relieved to think their ordeal may finally be at an end.... (full context)
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
At midnight, Sam and Bill bring Johnny to Ebenezer’s house in Summit and pay him $250. Johnny, upset when realizing his friends... (full context)