Skip to content

The Worst Short Story Ever!- “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry

January 22, 2012
O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter) in ...

Image via Wikipedia

One day when he was in prison, O. Henry (then William Sydney Porter) was hanging out, stitching uppers, and listening to other inmates tell their stories.  One convict was a kidnapper who would hold rich kids for ransom. 

“One hellion that we grabbed was so unruly that we couldn’t control him,” the former kidnapper griped.  “He cussed at us, spit at us, kicked us in the shins so much that we thought about paying the dad to take him back.  Instead, we doubled the ransom.”

What a charming idea for a story, O. Henry thought as he began scribbling notes.  O. Henry got many of his short story ideas from “characters” that he met in prison. 

“How much did you end up getting for that kid?” O. Henry asked, wondering how much a rich father would pay for his obnoxious child. 

“A life sentence,” the kidnapper said.  “We shot him.” 

O. Henry stopped scribbling notes and thought to himself, I’d better change the ending to this story. 


The problem with “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry is that I’m not very fond of snotty kids.  I’ve never been fond of snotty kids.  Even when I was a snotty kid, I didn’t like snotty kids. 

Maybe the idea of a snotty kid unintentionally foiling a pair of kidnappers was a knee-slapper a century ago, but the idea doesn’t hold up now.  It didn’t even hold up decades ago when an unfortunate sensitive English teacher tried to convince an uninterested class that “The Ransom of Red Chief” was funny.  The teacher got so frustrated at our stone-faced lack of amusement, that she broke into tears and left the classroom. 

When she returned, I pointed out that her behavior was ironic in a way that O. Henry would have appreciated.  She sent me to principal’s office for smarting off to her.  My principal explained to me that when I (as a snotty kid) make a sensitive English teacher cry, I should apologize to the sensitive English teacher, not explain to the sensitive English teacher why her tears are ironic. 

The point is that I never should have been put into that situation.  O. Henry should have known better.  Editors who put together literature books for junior high kids should know better.  Even overly sensitive English teachers should know better.  Snotty kids are annoying and should never appear victorious in any type of pop culture entertainment. 


To be honest, I haven’t read every short story ever.  In fact, I haven’t even read all of O. Henry’s short stories.  But when I apply the criteria of A WORST SHORT STORY EVER, it certainly matches up.  Plus, I like hyperbole. 


“The Ransom of Red Chief” might be a well crafted story, but it has a snotty, precocious kid, and I despise snotty, precocious kids.  There are too many snotty, precocious kids on television and in the movies, and that has led to more snotty, precocious kids in real life.  “The Ransom of Red Chief” has one of the first snotty, precocious kids in popular culture (at least Tom Sawyer was cool), and in real life this little brat would have been beaten within an inch of his life.  Having kids read this tripe in schools only encourages them to misbehave (if they understand it). 

O. Henry can’t be blamed for all the snotty kids in pop (or real) culture these days.  If he had that kind of influence, men and women in love would give each other ironically useless gifts as shown in “The Gift of the Magi.” 

Magi?  That’s one of the toughest two syllable words to pronounce.  Maj-ee?  May-jee?  Mah-jee?  Mah-gee?  May-gee?  Mag-gee?  Maj-eye?  May-jeye?  May-jee?  As many times as I’ve read the story, you’d think I’d remember how to pronounce that word by now.  The public education system has failed me. 

At least the overly sensitive English teacher didn’t fail me.  She still gave me an A. 


O. Henry stories were the only literature I appreciated in school.  “A Retrieved Reformation” has more humor and insight than any John Sanford or Sue Grafton novel.  Plus, “Jimmy Valentine” is one of the coolest names ever. 

“After Twenty Years” is one of the shortest of short stories with a twist ending that could teach M. Night Shyamalan a thing or two about surprise endings. 

“The Gift of the Magi” is another… I already mentioned that one.  

“The Ransom of Red Chief” is the WORST SHORT STORY EVER in the same way that the Black Eyed Peas are the WORST MUSICAL GROUP EVER.  It’s not so much that they suck (even though they do); it’s that their mediocrity is sold to the public as greatness, and I’m tired of it. 


“The Ransom of Red Chief” is a mediocre story being pitched as a great story, built from a bad idea, and it teaches a horrible lesson about obnoxious, snotty kids.  And it made my sweet, overly sensitive English teacher cry. 

Because of all these reasons, “The Ransom of Red Chief” is (in my mind) the WORST SHORT STORY EVER!!!!

  1. Sorry, I LOVE Ransom of Red Chief! Of course, I’m 70 years old, and in my younger, impressionable years, that kind of behavior was an anomaly. (As you might guess, I was quiet, respectful, and incapable of annoying anyone.) Besides, it’s all the father’s fault, of course, so he deserves to get the kid back.

    • I’m an O. Henry fan, so I’ll probably agree with you about any other O. Henry story (not that I’ve read them all), but this one has always bugged me. Maybe I’m overreacting.

  2. Shraeyansh Rajpurohit permalink

    Aghhhhhhhhhhhhg 👺👺👺👺👺👺👺👺 i haaaaaate thissss storrrryyyyyyyyyy👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹👹

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: