In "The Ransom of Red Chief," O. Henry proves to be the master of the unexpected. Bill and Sam are notorious small-time criminals who get more than they bargain for when they attempt to kidnap a little rich boy who calls himself Red Chief. O. Henry employs foreshadowing to lead the reader through a series of clues about what will happen with the kidnappers and the boy. What started as a bid for some fast cash ended with the kidnappers returning the wily young boy and paying the ransom to his father.
Foreshadowing is a literary tool that uses hints in a story to tell what is about to happen in the action. For example, a dark or eerie setting could foreshadow something foreboding that happens in a story. Or an author could hint that a character might become ill by having other characters talk about it. Often, authors show a character's trait early in a story, such as being impulsive, that will become integral to the plot towards the end.
From the very first sentence of the story, the author hints that events will not pan out as planned. The author first explains that the kidnapping would be a good deal, but then uses the phrase "But wait till I tell you" to contradict what the audience would expect to happen. Additionally, the kidnappers expect to get $2,000 dollars from Ebenezer, but the same phrase is used again to imply that things will not work out as planned. The men indeed do not get the ransom they are after.
Red Chief's Actions
In addition to author commentary, characterization includes the actions of the antagonist Red Chief. They choose this particular boy because his father is rich, but from first glance the boy is a handful. Most children, when faced with kidnappers, would be scared or docile. Red Chief turns the game around, throwing rocks at kittens, pretending to scalp them, and hitting Bill in the eye with a brick. From the start, the kidnapping does not go well. The unusual antics of the boy demonstrate that this is not a typical kidnapping, and foreshadow that this will not have a typical end.
Red Chief's Words
The other way foreshadowing is used is through the words of Red Chief. The victim and kidnapper seem to reverse roles as the boy curses at his captors and calls himself "the terror of the plains." He does not speak respectfully throughout the story, either. Instead of being frustrated or scared that he is being held captive, he is happy and resourceful. He explains that the kidnapping is actually a welcome adventure because he dislikes school so much, and begs the men not to take him home again.