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In this lesson, we examine some examples of different types of irony that are used by O. Henry in ”The Ransom of Red Chief,” including verbal, situational, and dramatic irony.

The Ransom of Red Chief Background

Sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you expect them to. In O. Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief, the characters Bill and Sam expect to make some quick money by kidnapping Ebenezer Dorset’s son and asking for a ransom.

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However, to their surprise, the boy, who calls himself Red Chief while playing cowboys and Indians, enjoys camping out with his abductors. Furthermore, it is Red Chief that makes the kidnappers miserable rather than the other way around.Bill and Sam can’t get rid of Red Chief fast enough, which results in a great deal of irony. Let’s examine some examples of verbal, dramatic, and situational irony from this story.

Verbal and Dramatic Irony

Verbal irony is when what a character says and what he means are opposites. When Bill says, ”Would you like to have a bag of candy and a nice ride?” to the boy, it is an example of verbal irony because Bill’s intention is not to offer something nice, but to kidnap him.Dramatic irony occurs when the audience and possibly some of the other characters know something that another character does not.

Because of the lack of knowledge, the character says or does things that he/she would not have with full knowledge.A great example of dramatic irony occurs when Sam returns from having the ransom note delivered. At first, he is unable to find Bill or the boy, but after ”about half an hour I heard the bushes rustle, and Bill wabbled out into the little glade in front of the cave. Behind him was the kid, stepping softly like a scout, with a broad grin on his face.”Unaware that the boy is behind him, Bill explains that he can’t handle spending any more time with this kid, so he dropped him off near home. He apologizes for giving up the ransom, but no one ”ever was subjugated to such supernatural tortures as I have been.

I tried to be faithful to our articles of depredation; but there came a limit.”Sam must gently explain that Red Chief has followed him back to their camp. He says, ”you might turn around.

..and have a look behind you.

” Bill’s unnecessary apology as a result of not knowing he was followed results in dramatic irony.

Situational Irony

Situational irony is when the opposite of what you expect to happen occurs.When Bill and Sam kidnap the boy, they expect to make money. It is a big surprise when Mr. Dorset responds, ”You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands.” Bill and Sam have such a difficult time dealing with Red Chief that they are willing to pay it.

Bill is eager to get out of there, ”In ten minutes I shall cross the Central, Southern and Middle Western States, and be legging it trippingly for the Canadian border.”

Lesson Summary

Let’s review what we’ve learned. The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry is filled with irony as a plan to kidnap and boy and hold him for ransom goes terribly wrong. We looked at the following three types of irony:

  • Verbal irony is when what a character says and what he means are opposites. We see verbal irony when Bill attempts to entice the boy into their car with the promise of candy and a nice ride.

    This is the opposite of Bill’s intent.

  • Dramatic irony is when the audience and possibly some of the other characters know something that another character doesn’t. This occurs when Bill tries to take the boy home, but Red Chief follows him back to the camp. The reader and Sam can see that the boy is still there as Bill apologizes for giving up the ransom.
  • Situational irony is when the opposite of what you expect to happen occurs. This occurs when instead of getting a ransom for Red Chief, Bill and Sam end up paying the boy’s father for taking him back.

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