The Ransom of Red Chief

Sam, the story’s narrator, is a con-man and a hustler who works with his partner-in-crime Bill to hatch harebrained criminal plots. He is always looking for a "good thing" and a scheme to make a little easy money, but his ideas are terrible—he has no realistic understanding of what criminals do or what plans might succeed—and therefore his plots tend to blow up in his face. When he and Bill conspire to kidnap Johnny, the son of a wealthy man, and hold him for ransom, they do not anticipate the child’s difficulty, the canniness of his father, nor the logistical hurdles of holding a child hostage and demanding and collecting ransom. For their oversights, Sam and Bill wind up paying Johnny’s father Ebenezer to take troublesome Johnny back, rather than making money from their scheme. Despite Sam’s criminality, O. Henry portrays him as hapless and sympathetic, a benign and delusional man with pathetic criminal aspirations. Sam seems to be the leader of his and Bill’s duo, as he leaves Bill with undesirable tasks, such as wrangling Johnny. He is resilient, and he patiently persists in their plan, even while Bill panics.

Sam Quotes in The Ransom of Red Chief

The The Ransom of Red Chief quotes below are all either spoken by Sam or refer to Sam . 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

There was a town down there, as flat as a flannel-cake, and called Summit, of course. It contained inhabitants of as undeleterious and self-satisfied a class of peasantry as ever clustered around a Maypole.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Bill Driscoll
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!

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 short mobile

“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

Sam Character Timeline in The Ransom of Red Chief

The timeline below shows where the character Sam 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
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
The narrator, Sam, and his friend Bill are down in Summit, Alabama (a town as “flat as a... (full context)
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... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
...but they take him to the cave where Bill is left to watch him while Sam returns the buggy to town and then walks back to the remote cave. (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
When Sam returns, he discovers Bill tending to scratches and bruises, but the scene is calm with... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...cave scanning the woods for imaginary paleface scouts, and making a warwhoop that scares Bill. Sam asks if Johnny would like to go home, but Johnny pleads not to be taken... (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.... (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... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam goes up on the peak of a nearby mountain and sees nothing to indicate that... (full context)
Crime, Violence, and Empathy Theme Icon
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
...Bill is worried, wondering what he’s up to and if he’s trying to run away. Sam tells Bill not to worry, and says that he’s headed to town that night to... (full context)
Imagination and Play Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
...Herod, the 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... (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 reminds Sam that... (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... (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... (full context)
Justice Theme Icon
Outsiders Theme Icon
Sam walks to the neighboring town of Poplar Cove and overhears someone saying all Summit is... (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... (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... (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... (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 are to return the... (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... (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... (full context)