Guid Essay

Guid Essay

Use of Irony and Imagery in O. Henry’s Story ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’ – Free Essay Example

The definition of the word ‘ransom’ is the sum paid to the kidnappers for the safe return of a kidnapped person. Yet, in O. Henry’s story ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’, the opposite happens. The kidnappers are compelled to pay a fee to the abductee’s father to take the kidnapped boy off their hands. In the story, Sam and Bill hatch a plan to kidnap Johnny and extract a two thousand dollars ransom from his affluent father Ebenezer Dorset; unfortunately, the plan backfires when the boy proves to be too mischievous and troublesome. O. Henry makes his stories entertaining by effectively utilizing literary devices such as situational irony and imagery.

O. Henry uses situational irony to add depth to his characters and incorporate humor throughout the story. For example, in the story, ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’, although Johnny is kidnapped by two experienced criminals, Sam observes that the “fun of camping out in the cave [has] made [Johnny] forget that he [is] a captive himself” (p. 72). This is ironic because normally an abductee would be scared and frightened, but here Johnny is treating the kidnapping as a wonderful camping adventure and having a great time. This adds a sense of humor because the roles are switched and Johnny is making the kidnappers his captives. It further develops Johnny’s character as the reader infers that the boy must live in a home with few restrictions and is allowed to abide by his own rules. This is important to the story because it explains the boy’s lack of manners and his bossy behavior towards Bill and Sam. Another example of situational irony in O. Henry’s story is when the men receive a letter from Ebenezer Dorset in response to their ransom note, saying, “You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash and I agree to take him off your hands” (p 78). This creates an unexpected humorous twist in the plot because the reader would expect Johnny’s dad to be eager to pay the demands of the kidnappers to get his child back, but here the roles are reversed and the dad is asking cash from the kidnappers. It also provides further insight into Johnny’s character as the reader can deduce that Mr. Dorset knows that Johnny is a terror and the men are not going to be able to control him, which explains why Mr. Dorset thinks he can change the situation to his advantage and make the men pay. Thus, through the use of situational irony, the author not only changes the reader’s predictions with amusement, but also increases the understanding of the characters’ motivations.

Imagery is another literary device that O. Henry employs to appeal to the reader’s senses, make the story more humorous, and show character interactions and motivations. For instance, when Johnny is trying to scalp Bill, Sam describes Bill’s screams as not “yells, or howls, or shouts, or whoops, or yawps, such as you’d expect from a manly set of vocal organs—… [but] simply indecent, terrifying, humiliating screams, such as women emit when they see caterpillars” (p. 72-73). This auditory imagery contrasting a man’s and a woman’s scream creates a humorous effect in the story. It demonstrates that by making fun of Bill’s cries, Sam is not only insulting Bill, but trivializing Bill’s fear of Johnny and not fully comprehending the terror that Johnny is capable of inflicting. It further emphasizes the unexpected that Johnny, a ten-year-old abductee, has become the aggressor while Bill, a grown man and a seasoned criminal, has become the victim. It also contributes towards changing the readers’ reaction, that instead of feeling scared for Johnny, they start sympathizing with Bill. Another example of visual imagery is when Bill falls in the fire after Johnny hits him with a rock, and Sam “[goes] out and [catches Johnny] and [shakes] him until his freckles [rattle]” (p. 74). This comical exaggeration draws the reader into the scene and makes them envision how hard Sam is shaking Johnny, generating a humorous tone in the story. It also illustrates that both Bill and Sam are becoming increasingly frustrated with Johnny and this is important because it is this continued and growing exasperation that advances the plot and causes the men to not only lower their ransom from two thousand to fifteen hundred, but also end up paying two hundred and fifty dollars to Johnny’s dad. It further serves to elicit empathy in the reader for the plight of Bill and Sam, as the reader understands what they must be going through. Certainly, the author’s use of imagery not only produces a humorous mood, but also helps to develop the characters and further the plot.

To conclude, O. Henry makes his writings more enjoyable through the powerful use of situational irony and imagery. Employing situational irony allows the author to challenge the readers’ predictions and add humor during the unexpected turn of events, making them laugh. Utilizing imagery adds depth to his writing and serves to induce empathy from the reader, even as he makes the situations lighthearted. Both these devices improve the readers’ comprehension of the characters’ personalities, interactions, and motivations. Ultimately, the special gift of O. Henry is his ability to play with the readers’ expectations and surprise them, which results in the word ‘ransom’ in the story becoming the opposite of what it literally means.

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