Thursday, October 25, 2007

Family Fun Night: The Ransom of Red Chief

Tonight is Thursday, our Family Fun Night. I think it's time for our annual reading of THE RANSOM OF RED CHIEF. If you have never read O. Henry's hilarious tale of two men and a little boy with a crooked halo, you are missing out on a real treat.

Here's the general program: After the children have stuffed themselves with mounds of popcorn and washed it down with hot cocoa, they gather around Daddy Dear. He clears his throat and puts forth his best Southern accent. His voice is clear and serious...

"It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you. We were down South, in Alabama--Bill Driscoll and myself-when this kidnapping idea struck us. It was, as Bill afterward expressed it, "during a moment of temporary mental apparition"; but we didn't find that out till later..."

Thus the tale begins.

But just a few minutes into the reading, Daddy Dear's voice begins to crack and he can no longer keep a straight face. The antics of Red Chief are just too much for him. We all join in with peals of laughter. Our youngest doesn't know exactly what's going on in this here story, but it must be a pretty jolly tale, so he collapses on the floor giggling. Daddy Dear tries to regain composure and continue the story although tears are now streaming down his cheeks. We have all become addle. Heaven help us! Will this story please end soon? I'm not sure we can stand much more.

Have I made myself clear?


one step at a time...


  1. Loved this. Sounds like a great book and a lot of family fun.

    hope all is well with you all.

    love, J

  2. My library has it!
    I'll be checking it out pronto!

  3. I pulled this story out the day I had 2 8-year-old foster boys to entertain before church.

    I didn't remember much about it other than it was funny and the boy was a little pill trying to be "Red Chief."

    I don't think I got more than two or five paragraphs into it (really I ought to look that up and find out how far) before I was shamed into putting it away.

    I think it's a lot of fun for white folks getting a laugh out of the situation of two men getting more than they could handle from a Dennis the Menace type, but for two young native boys it was *definitely* the. WRONG. story.

    If you're looking for adults in over their heads, try the old Disney movies No Deposit, No Return, or The Apple Dumpling Gang instead.

  4. I hope I don't sound like I'm causing a problem, but it really goes beyond "political correctness" to a basic cultural sensitivity that I hope to grow in myself and teach my children.

    I suppose if I emphasize the humor is also the hugely caricatured portrayal...

  5. Amy Jane,
    I think that we must be careful when engaging in literary criticism. It is certainly a multi-faceted discipline that requires a broad cultural and historical perspective. I wanted to point out a few things about the O'Henry classic The Ransom of Red Chief.

    First of all, it is true that the author stereotypes American Indians but then this is inevitable when dealing with a subject so broad because most of the Native American "tribes" are separate nations, many with unrelated languages. Some might object to being called "white" or “paleface” as Red Chief calls them in the story. After all we are Irish, Dutch, Russian, Romanian, etc. and “paleface” is not exactly a very becoming name. However, categorization and simplification of the phenomenon we encounter in life is an inescapable necessity and as long as the intent is not malicious, I see no harm in it.

    Some people might object to the language used by Red Chief, saying that it reinforces prejudice against these people as “savages”. For example, he talks about ‘burning at the stake’ or ‘scalping.’ Yes, it is true that not all of the different groups of American Natives engaged in such behavior. Yet, there were those who did and this is not something that we need to bury in the pages of history.

    Thirdly, it is obvious that if the story has a ‘villian’, it is the two con-artists who have captured the boy, who is, in fact, the hero of the story. I find it refreshing that he chooses to represent himself as an "Indian" and is victorious in the end over these two "palefaced" criminals. I think it is the noble native who is portrayed in a positive light here. I know that when my husband was growing up, he would never be the ‘cowboy’ in a game of ‘cowboys and Indians’ because he was very aware of the injustice they had suffered and longed to represent them in victory over the imperialistic white man. My husband is also part Cherokee. I myself, have lived among the Native Americans of Alaska and have a deep appreciation for their heritage and culture.

  6. It wasn't long ago that I acquired this story for our library. I read it and know our Lambies will enjoy it! I have also seen a movie version and thought that very funny.


  7. I think the difference (since you bring up literary criticism) is that we as adults have practice with that.

    These boys, being young had no such established filtering system, and coming from their background (*Alaska* native-- so no known history of scalping, for example-- but in the foster system and understanding no distinction of heritage) the story was too much to expect them to filter.

    As for the distinction between tribes that did or didn't engage in distasteful behavior whether or not yours did means little when an ugly image is flying at you. I might actually be more hurtful if you know your innocence but never have a chance to clarify or declare it.

    It's like hearing "blacks" list their historical grievances against "whites" while though we all know a lot of whites never engaged in those.

    I know my family has been very "integrational" (if I can make that a word) as far back as I know, but I still dislike going to certain rallies or reading some books because of the blanket condemnation of "whites." This is the best analogy I can think of.

    Again, I understand your point in bringing it up, and I enjoyed it as a child, but unless the native child has a stable, positive cultural identity, I still believe it is not appropriate for that child.

  8. lindafay said...
    Amy Jane,
    I completely understand your decision to not read this story to the Native American boys in your foster care. I wouldn't either. They couldn't possibly have had enough time in the right environment to develop a healthy understanding of their past.

    But you seem to be suggesting that this story is inappropriate for everyone by stating:

    "If you're looking for adults in over their heads, try the old Disney movies No Deposit, No Return, or The Apple Dumpling Gang instead."

    I must respectfully disagree with you. I do appreciate the dialog.


    PS> Oops! I just noticed I misspelled 'villain' up there somewhere.

  9. I didn't mean the alternate suggestions to imply that *no one* should read it-- more as a specific alternate for those who wanted that type of humor aside from that particular story.

    I agree it truly has it's moments, I just was sad that I realized its inappropriateness in my lap, rather than ahead of time--

    I suppose I wanted to spare someone else a similar sorrow.

  10. Hi Linda!

    I left a message on my blog in reply to your inquiry about the code on our nature blog.

    Since that message we as a family have decided not to continue A Storybook Life, since we as a family are not contributing to it! LOL! It's all fallen to me and it is just too much.

    Thanks a bunch!

  11. Don't you just love those moments when everyone is in fits of laughter and can't breathe?! :) Hope you have many, many, more of them, friend!

  12. We just read this last week! Sounds like a great family night at your place!

  13. I will definitely take this recommendation seriously. This is my first visit to your blog, and I have had such a good time! ~smile~ (((((HUGS))))) sandi