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- 03 Students & Alumni / Students' Portfolio
A Critical Analysis of O’ Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”
- 03 Students & Alumni
- Students' Portfolio
By Shavira Sarashita
O-Henry (September 11 1862- june 5, 1910) is a famous American writer whose real name is William Sydney Porter . O-Henry’s short stories are known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization, and clever twist endings. “The Gift Of The Magi” is one of interesting short story which is I have already read. Therefore, I decided to chose this short story as my mid-term paper. In this paper I will be explaining all of the elements in this short story and those elements are plot, arrangement, point of view, narrator, character and settings.
Plot Plot is artistic arrangement or a design of events in a story or plot could be interpreted the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. Plot can be found in the beginning of the story or in the end of the story. But usually plot can be found in the beginning of the story. In pursuance of Frey’s tag pyramid a plot of story consist of exposition, complication, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution or denouement. Exposition is introducing of character in the story. And it can be interpreted starting of the situation in the story and, beside of introducing of character in the story exposition can introducing of setting, background, etc. complication is introducing of conflict in the story. There are two kinds of conflict; first is external and the second is internal. External conflict happens between character, and the character and society. Internal conflict the inner conflict is within a character. Here, there is the situation/new character/changes of personality/changes from one of character in the story. Rising action is continuation from complication means that cause of what is causing those changes in the story. Climax is the peak of the story. It can be like take a decision/ action for conflict. Falling action is when the moment in the story is going to be cleared. The last are resolution when story has happy or good ending and denouement (when story has sad ending).
In “The Gift of The Magi”, the expostion happens when the main character is introduced. There was a woman named Della. She was counting her money and realized that it was not enough to byu a present for Jim, her husband. She felt really sad that the next day would be Christmas and she still did not know what to do. She really wanted to buy Jim a present.
After exposition, the story goes on to rising action. It happens when Della was totally in deep confussion about what she could do. She only got $1.87 as the result after she had saved every pennies for months. She knew that $1.87 would never be enough for such a great present. She cried for a while but then she found out that she had to take a risk. It is told that Della had an extremely long brown hair. She immediately went out of her house and searched for any store that would buy her hair. While she was walking through the street, she suddenly stopped since she read a sign said “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” She rushed into the store, met a woman named Madame Sofronie, and asked her if she wanted to buy her hair. Madame Sofronie then examined her hair and quickly told Della that her hair was worth $20. After Della got the money, she went to a store where she finally found the right present for Jim. It was a simple platinum fob chain, and she thought it would be perfect for Jim’s watch. The chain reflects the simplicity and quietness of Jim. Della bought it for $21 and got back home with her 87 cents. The rising action always lead the story to the climax. The climax in this story happens when Jim finally went home from work. Seeing his wife’s hair cut off, he suddenly just stand still at his place without being angry, surprised, or disapproval. He asked his wife to make sure that her hair had been really gone. Della cried and told him that she cut it off and sold it.
The climax goes down to the falling action. The falling action in this story is when Jim took out a package from his coat and spoke to Della. He seemed to feel alright. He did not mind about Della’s short hair. He asked Della to unwrap the package to make Della understand why Jim was like that at the first time he saw Della. She opened the package and cried hysterically. It was a set of comb made of pure tortoise shell with jewelled rims. It was all that she had dreamed for long time. After that, Della gave Jim the chain that she bought, and asked him to try it on his watch. However, Jim did not obey that. He threw himself on a couch and smiled.
The ending of the story can be considered as resolution since Jim and Della were happy in the end. Jim finally told his wife to put the presents away for a while and stated that they were too nice to be just a present. While sitting on the couch, he told Della that he had sold his watch to buy the comb set for Della. Now, Jim asked his wife to prepare the dinner for them both.
Character is personality or attitude for a person in story. The types of character are divided into two categories there are role and personality. from role are divided into two major and minor characters. Meanwhile from personality, there are flat, round, static, dynamic, stock, hero, anti-hero, and allusion.
There are major and minor characters in the story based on their roles. Della and Jim is the major characters. Della is considered to be the major character since she is the one who appears from the beginning until the end of the story. It seems that the beginning of the story is telling about Della’s confussion to buy present for Jim, her husband until she finally did a sacrifice in order to be able to buy a nice present. Meanwhile, Jim can be also said that he is major character as he is another person who has a relationship with Della, the first major character. Jim also has interactions with Della that create a good flow of the story. Besides, there is actually one minor character. She is Madame Sofronie who was the woman buying Della’s hair for $20. The reason why she is the minor character is that she only appeared in the middle of the story for a moment.
The next explanation is based the characters’ personality. There are only three kinds of characters, which are flat, dynamic, static, and stock characters. Della is dynamic character in the story since her physical appearance changed in the end of the story. In the beginning, it is described that she has a beautiful long brown hair. It looked like a brown waterfall. However, she cut off her hair in order to buy a present for her husband, so her hair became very short. Besides, Della is a flat character since her way to interact with other characters throughout the story tends to be the same from the beginning until the end.
Next, Jim can be considered as a flat and static character. Jim’s way of talking remains the same since he only appeared almost in the end of the story. He is static character because his physical appearance did not change at all. The last kind is stock character, which is Madame Sofronie. She is considered as stock character since she tends to be the only complement character.
Setting The definition of a setting in a story is where the story takes place and when the story happens. Every story has a setting. Moreover, setting it is not only about place. Year, day, month, in the morning, or even the story shows a time such as 00.00 these are include setting and the name of those are time setting. In “The Gift of The Magi”, the story takes place at Della and Jim’s house, Madame Sofronie’s store, and the store where Della got the chain for the present. It took place at Della and Jim’s house when Della was counting her money to buy a perfect present for Jim, and when Della and Jim were finally meeting and talking about their presents in the end of the story. Next, it took place at Madame Sofronie’s store when Della finally decided to cut her hair off and sold it to Madame Sofronie for $20. Lastly, there was one store when Della finally found the platinum fob chain to be the right present for Jim.
The time setting of the story is considered to be in a Christmas Eve since it was explained that Della was confused about what she was going to buy Jim’s Christmas present on the following day. Specifically, it was in the afternoon when Della was counting money, going to Madame Sofronie’s store, and buying the fob chain for Jim’s watch. In the end, it seemed to be in the evening when Della and Jim finally met and talked about their presents. Point of view
Definition of point of view is the position of the narrator which is relation to the story, as indicated by the narrator’s outlook from which the events are depicted and from the attitude towards the character. There are two types of narrator, which are participant and non-participant narrator. Participant narrator takes a role in the story. It tells the story from the first person point of view and uses the pronoun “I” while non-participant narrator does not take any role in the story. It only tells the story from the third person point of view and uses the pronoun “she”, “he”, “it”, and names as well. Non-participant narrator is also divided into three branch, which are omniscient or all-knowing, limited omniscience, and objective.
The narrator of “The Gift of The Magi” is non-participant. It uses the limited omniscience third person point of view. The narrator tells the story by using the pronoun “she”, “he”, “it”, and names to mention all the characters and other things. It is considered to be limited omniscience as the narrator only knows all about the major characters, which are Della and Jim. The narrator explains the physical appearance and all the feelings of Della and Jim.
As definition theme is the central idea or ideas explored by a literary work. Usually themes of the story have more one theme. Themes of the story could be themes of death, themes of revenge, themes of action and many more. It can be said “The Gift of The Magi” has the theme “Sacrifice sometimes can be pointless.” I could tell that since Della’s sacrifice to cut her hair off to buy the chain for Jim’s watch became pointless because in the end, Jim told Della that he had sold his valuable watch to buy her a set of comb. Unfortunately, Della’s hair was now very short. In conclusion, their sacrifice does not make any result.
Literary Theory and Criticism
Home › Literature › Analysis of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi
Analysis of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi
By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on May 24, 2021
Although many critics do not view O. Henry ’s stories as first-rate literature, some of his many hundreds of tales have become classic. “The Gift of the Magi,” touching as it does a common human cord, is one of those stories. Not tragic, perhaps sentimental or a little didactic, it combines the themes of married love and selfl essness with the techniques of suspense and the O. Henry surprise ending.
Della Dillingham Young and her husband, Jim, on the edge of poverty but deeply in love, wish to purchase Christmas gifts that will surprise and please the other. The narrator focuses on Della as she tries to figure a way to find enough money to buy her husband a fine gift. Each of them has a prize possession: Jim’s is a gold watch that belonged to his father and his grandfather, and Della’s is her long, thick, luxuriant hair. Suddenly Della realizes that she could sell her hair for enough money to buy Jim a gold chain for his watch. The touches of realistic detail add to the poignancy of her sacrifice: She had only $1.87 but, with the sale of her hair, she receives the $20 to buy the watch chain.
At home, feeling shorn and sheepish, Della greets Jim with her school-boyish haircut. Because the narrator has focused on Della’s thoughts rather than Jim’s, readers feel suspense in waiting for his response. Not only does he tell her that he will love her no matter what she does with her hair, but he gives her two beautiful jeweled, tortoiseshell combs that she had admired. When Della gives him the watch chain, he suggests putting their fine presents away for a while: He has sold his watch so that he could buy Della the combs for her hair. The narrator points out that the two may have unwisely sacrificed their valuable possessions, but they are the wisest gift givers of all. Despite the moral and the sentiment—or perhaps because of them—“The Gift of the Magi” in its very simplicity appeals to a love and loyalty for which many modern readers, no matter how sophisticated, may still yearn.
Analysis of O. Henry’s Stories
BIBLIOGRAPHY Blansfi eld, Karen Charmaine. Cheap Rooms and Restless Hearts: A Study of the Formula in the Urban Tales of Porter Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1988. Henry, O. “The Gift of the Magi.” In Stories, edited by Harry Hansen. New York: Heritage Press, 1965.
Categories: Literature , Short Story
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- The Gift of Magi
The Gift of Magi is a short story written by an American short story writer, William Sydney Porter . He has written his literary works under the pen name of O’ Henry . This story was first published in 1905.
It is a sentimental tale of a financially upset couple. Both of them sold out their prized possessions in order to buy presents for each other for Christmas. In the end, their gifts become useless.
This story is written in the 19th century highlighting the economic disturbance of those times. It also throws light on the prevailing materialism in society. One can also find it a commentary on the sufferings and struggles of the middle class trying to overcome the upset financial situation.
The Gift of Magi Summary
Della Dillingham, holding 1.87 dollars in her hand wanders here and there in the room. She is worried because it’s Christmas Eve and she needs to buy a gift for her loving and caring husband to show that she loves her too. Also, she feels like crying because she doesn’t know what to do.
Moreover, the couple lives in a small and simple apartment. James Young Dillingham is a gentleman and husband of Della. He works in an office in the city. Recently he was receiving 30 dollars a week which has drastically fallen to 20 dollars a week and due to which the family upsets a bit.
The only pride with the Dillingham family is the gold watch James is having which is believed to be given to his father by his grandfather. On the other side, Della’s most beautiful thing is her hair. James loves her long brown hair.
Della is thinking about how to give James a gift. Meantime she comes in front of the mirror in her room. The narrator describes it as not a good mirror as it is thin and gets very difficult for anyone to catch his glimpse in it. However, Della is a thin girl so she easily catches a view of herself.
In all of her nervousness, she opens her hair which falls to its full length to her knees. She has beautiful brown hair which shines brightly. Upon seeing her hair, an idea probes in her mind. She rushes to the stairs and goes down to the street and sees the name of the shop on the street Mrs Sofronie.
She runs towards the shop and goes inside and asks Mrs Sofronie whether she will buy her hair or not. She tells her to open her hair. When she sees her brown hair fall like a stream from top to her knees she at once says 20 dollars.
After the haircut, Della goes to the market to buy a gift for James. Now she has 21 dollars and 87 cents. She crosses the whole market and a number of shops until she finds a beautiful watch chain. When she looks at it she at once thinks of buying it. Eventually, she buys it and thinks like it was made for James. She returns home happily.
Similarly, she is smiling and blushing that how happy and delighted James will be when he sees this beautiful watch chain as he was already in need of one.
Subsequently, she comes home and straightly goes to her room. Sitting in her room she thinks about her hair cut which seems more like a schoolboy cut. On this, she becomes slightly upset as it was her most beautiful and dear possession. Due to this, she also imagines how badly James will feel when he comes to know her hair is gone. Then, she keeps waiting in her room for James to return home.
At 7 o’clock, James arrives and she listens to his steps approaching the room. She excitedly goes downstairs and stops there as James looks at her strangely because of her haircut. She tells him not to look at her like that because his weird look is hurting her. She asks whether James loves her in long hair and will not love her like this.
Upon hearing this from Della, James comes near her and says nothing can lessen his love for her. Then, he expresses his disappointment by showing the gift he bought for her. At that time, he says to Della if she sees what he has brought for her as a gift she would feel the same as he felt. Della steps towards the gift and as her white finger opens the box tears come out of her eyes.
There are two beautiful jeweled combs which she has seen in a shop and wanted it but she couldn’t buy it. James says that he sold his gold watch to buy this for her. Now her hair is gone so they are of no worth or use for her. Della, though upset, builds courage and says to James to forget about these gifts as they are worthy of not our use for now, and let’s enjoy our Christmas night as we are losing time.
Themes in The Gift of Magi
One of the themes of this story written by O’ Henry is the revelation of endless love between the couple. They both sell their valuable things to buy gifts for one another and to show how much they love each other. Della sells her hair and buys a watch chain for her husband and lover as he has not got a good chain with his family watch. So she sells her hair, a beautiful thing for her love.
One the other side James sells his family watch given to him by his father to buy a gift for her wife. This shows and proves how much they love each other. In the end, the love they are having for one another triumphs over the material things.
O’ Henry has tactfully interwoven the theme of inner and outer beauty. Throughout the story, one can see the narrator praising Della’s hair and Jim’s watch. Similarly, there are also the glimpses of outer beauty occurring in the prized gifts they bought for each other.
However, all those things possess only outer beauty as those are only material objects. The very inner beauty lies in both characters; the love they are having for each other. Those material objects also reflect the love and selflessness they are having. In the end, the objects of outer beauty fail but love gains victory.
Readers may find the spark of selflessness in both characters. This very element leads them to sacrifice. Della, being a woman of beautiful hairs, the only possession she has, sacrificed it for her love. She just wanted to see delightfulness on Jim’s face.
On the other hand, Jim also sacrificed his prized possession, passed down to him from generations for her wife. He wanted to give Della happiness on the Eve of Christmas. For this, he sold his watch.
She is the caring, beautiful, and loving wife of Jim Dillingham. She calls him Jim shortly and with love. Moreover, she has only prized possession that is her beautiful hair with the length from head to knees. Readers may explore most of the story through her perspective.
Similarly, she is described as an affectionate and selfless character. From the start of the story, she seems worried about how to purchase a gift of Christmas for her husband. She tried her best to save even a single penny. But in the end, money is not enough to buy any gift for Jim. So, she thought it best to cut her hair in order to buy him a fob chain. This shows her deep love for Jim and her selfless nature.
James Young Dillingham called by Della as Jim is a gentleman of age 22 but has a burden of responsibilities of running home and family. Nevertheless the heavy burden, he seems content, quiet, and good-natured.
Just like his wife he has only prized possession of a gold watch passed down from generations. Similar in manner to his wife, he sold his prized possession and bought a gift of tortoise comb for Della. This describes his love and cares towards Della.
She is the owner of the hair shop to which Della sells her hair. She is described as a brusque and cold lady. Moreover, she so much to the point that she didn’t waste time in evaluating and paid twenty dollars for the hairs of Della.
This story recounts the endless love between the couple, the way they sacrificed their prized possessions for each other. On one hand, Della cut her hair to make enough money to buy a fob chain for Jim. On the other hand, Jim sells his gold watch, passed down from generations, just to buy a beautiful comb for Della.
However, their sacrifices also elaborate foolishness. They bought one other beautiful and prized gifts but that turns out in vain. Tortoise comb is useless without Della’s hair. In the same way, the fob chain is useless with Jim’s gold watch. This alludes to the very gifts brought by wise men for Jesus on his birth. Similarly, those gifts were also useless for Christ but all that matters is love and sincerity with which gifts are bought.
The couple expressing the way of love is also weird. This depicts the materialism that was prevalent in those times. The 19th century was the age of industrialism which sprouts out materialism, economic disturbance, and class consciousness. Readers can find the aforementioned glimpses when both characters chose materials to express love for each other.
Moreover, the view of their apartment also mirrors the middle-class society of those times. Jim was overburdened with financial responsibilities. Though, he struggles a lot but couldn’t stabilize his family.
Despite low income, they have maintained to furnish their apartments so the people can socialize with them. This highlights the concept of that society that everyone socializes with materials, not with humans. Emotions and feelings were kept aside.
O’ Henry seems to be rebuking the concept of materialism. He alludes to the Queen of Sheba and King of Solomon to represent the jewels and wealth by comparing them with the possessions of Della and Jim. He is of the view that strong emotions are attached to those things; Della’s hairs and Jim’s watch. However, they sacrificed it for love.
In this way, he criticizes society’s proclivity towards material gains. He seems to advocate the value of sincerity and love that society lacked. Though those three kings also bought precious presents, their emotions and sincerity are counted anyway.
In the end, O’ Henry calls both of the characters wise. There he makes it explicit though both of them sold out things to buy gifts for Christmas. However, the only thing that beheld the couple and remained until the end was love.
O’ Henry uses the situation of Christmas to highlight that occasion not just means exchange of gifts. Rather it means unity, sincerity, and love. Even without materials, you can celebrate it if one’s heart is pure.
Significance of the Title
The title of this story can be elaborated with two perspectives.
Firstly, the title is a biblical allusion of three wise men or kings who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh for Christ on his birth in Bethlehem.
Likewise, O’ Henry develops this idea of precious gifts and love via Della and Jim’s character. Della and Jim have sacrificed their most prized possessions for one another so they are relatable with aforementioned wise men.
The story takes place in a tiny apartment which costs eight dollars a month. However, the location and time period is not explicitly mentioned. But one can assume that the story is set in the early 1900s in New York.
O’ Henry has used the following symbols in the story:
In the story, Della’s hair represents her youth and beauty. O’ Henry uses incredible imagery to describe her hair by depicting its length to her knees. Besides these, Della’s hair is also a symbol of love and sacrifice that she did for her husband Jim. She wanted to give him a precious present to show her love. However, she didn’t have enough money, so she cut her hair just to buy Jim a precious gift.
Jim’s Gold Watch
Jim’s gold watch has passed down to him through generations. This expresses the sentiments of Jim’s ties to his family. Moreover, it also symbolizes his love for Della and the time he spent working to support the household.
Nevertheless, the memories attached to the gold watch he sold it out to buy a beautiful gift for his wife Della. Given that, it represents the unstable financial position of the young couple as well.
O’ Henry has used incredible imagery at different places to mirror the exact view before the readers. At first, O’ Henry describes the mortification of Della of being a miser. He draws colour imagery to paint the image of Della’s cheek that “one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony”.
Moreover, O’ Henry has tactfully depicted the doleful feelings of Della that readers are fully able to understand it. The narrator says “She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard” . This provides glimpses of her sorrows and disappointment as she hasn’t enough money to buy a gift for Jim at Christmas.
Similarly, O’ Henry shows the apartment of a young couple. He uses pun on certain words to contradict the outlook of Della for her house. He describes “ It did not exactly beggar description “. However, then he uses the phrase “mendicancy squad” which also means beggar.
In this way, he shows that the apartment is tiny and in the possession of a financially unstable couple but they have managed to keep it well with all they have.
Likewise, O’ Henry pinpoints Della’s meagre situation by saying “ On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat”. This depicts how poor she is surviving a little.
Further, Della’s hair and Jim’s watch worth is described by comparing it with Queen of Sheba and King of Solomon. By this O’ Henry describes how Della makes Sheba envious by the charm of her hairs. Even King Solomon’s treasures lose their worth when Jim passes by with his watch.
O’ Henry has applied verbal irony when describing the only prized possessions of both characters. Firstly, he compares Della’s hairs with the jewels of Queen of Sheba that even Sheba would be envious of the beauty of her hair. On the other hand, he describes King Solomon despite the wealth that he would be anxious to hold Jim’s watch in his hands.
However, in the end, both sacrificed their only prized possessions to buy gifts for each other. But those gifts; a fob chain is useless without Jim’s gold watch. Likewise, the tortoise comb is useless without Della’s hair. Their gifts are useless just like the gifts of those wise men who brought precious gifts for baby Jesus. But all that matters is love, intimacy, and sacrifice of those gifts.
It happens when Della opens up Jim’s present finds a tortoise comb. For a short moment, she forgets that she had cut her hair and now it is useless for her.
Also, it may happen when readers beforehand know that Jim has sold his watch to buy the present for Della.
It occurs when Della didn’t understand the expression of Jim’s face. She thought his love was gone with her hair. However, the reason was the wastage of Jim’s present for Della as she cut her hair.
Readers beforehand understood the weird expression of Jim’s face. But Della failed to comprehend that.
The title alludes to three wise men or kings who brought precious gifts for Jesus on his birth. Moreover, O’ Henry alludes to “ Queen of Sheba” and “King of Solomon” to describe the worth of both character’s possessions.
Hyperbole occurs when the narrator describes the prized possessions of both characters. Firstly he compares Della’s hair with “ Queen of Sheba” and how envious she becomes after seeing Della’s hairs despite Her Majesty’s jewels.
Secondly, he exaggerates the worth of Jim’s watch with the anxiousness of “King Solomon” just to catch a glimpse of it. He would forget all his treasures before this watch.
Metaphors, Personification, and Similes
One may find the narrator personifying Della’s haggling and desire of saving money with the power of bulldozers. The narrator says “Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer”. In the same manner, the narrator personifies Della’s embarrassment for being parsimonious with the burning “ one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony”.
Moreover, the narrator beautifies Della’s hair by metaphorically relating it to waterfall “ Down rippled the brown cascade”
Similarly, one can see similes when the narrator describes the hair cut of Della resembling “ like a truant schoolboy”. Moreover, with the help of simile narrator depicts her look after the hair cut “like a Coney Island chorus girl”
Genre & Tone
The Gift of Magi is a short story containing the elements of realistic fiction. It is told through a rueful and affectionate tone.
More From O. Henry
- A Retrieved Reformation
- The Green Door
- A Service of Love
- The Last Leaf
- The Ransom of Red Chief
- The Cop and the Anthem
- The Furnished Room
- Memoirs of a Yellow Dog
The Gift of the Magi - Study Guide
Which is the better gift, the comb or the pocket watch? O. Henry 's short story, The Gift of the Magi (1905) offers a memorable ironic twist. We hope our study guide is particularly useful for teachers and students to study irony and appreciate O. Henry's clever literary devices.
Read the story: The Gift of the Magi , Character Analysis & Summary , Genre & Literary Devices , Etymology of "Magi" , Quotes , Discussion Questions , Paired Readings , Useful Links , and Notes/Teacher Comments
Character Analysis & Summary
Della Dillingham - The young woman, married to Jim, whose prized possession was her long, beautiful hair.
Jim Dillingham - The young man, married to Della, whose prized possession was an old pocketwatch with a leather strap.
Plot Summary : Jim and Della Dillingham are a poor, young married couple who don't have enough money to buy Christmas gifts. Both sell their most prized possessions in order to pay for a gift for the other at Christmas time.
Genre & Literary Devices
While The Gift of the Magi certainly falls in the fictional short story genre, it employs what could be called a sub-genre of "dramatic irony."
Dramatic irony is where the reader learns a secret that the main character(s) don't know about yet. Without the other knowing, both traded their most valuable possessions (priceless) for a gift that could no longer be used by the other because that person gave up their own possession. We wish we could stop Della from selling her hair, or Jim from selling his watch, but we can't. That's what makes for an engaging storyline that keeps us hooked. We want to know how they'll react when they find out.
Intimacy - O. Henry effectively employs a literary technique of creating intimacy with his reader, addressing us directly so we feel like we are in the same room with the main characters. Examples: "...already introduced to you as Della" "Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 Bat."
Self-deprecating - O. Henry makes fun of himself and his writing "Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present."
Similes - Comparing Della's hair, "rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters" and describing herself after the haircut: "[I] look like a Coney Island chorus girl." Describing Jim standing still, "as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail."
The Magi King Solomon Queen of Sheba
Yearning for what you can't have vs. receiving what you can't use Material happiness vs. spiritual or emotional happiness
Etymology of "Magi"
Magi is Latin, meaning skilled magicians, astrologers. Singular is "magus" which is the Persian root from Indo-Iranian "magh" which means powerful and rich, expressing ability. The Latins called them wise men, the Persians called them Magi. Also from the Greek "magos" (5th century BCE) which refers to the Persian priestly and learned class as portrayed in The Bible in The Gospel of Matthew
According to Ludolph of Saxony (died 1378): " The three pagan kings were called Magi not because they were magicians but because of the great science of astrology which was theirs. Those whom the Hebrews called scribes and the Greeks, philosophers, and the Latins, wise men, the Persians called Magi. And the reason that they were called kings is that in those days it was the custom for the philosophers and wise men to be rulers."
Explain what the following quotes mean and how they relate to the story:
"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies."
"Whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called 'Jim' and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della."
"Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch eveyr time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy."
"So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her."
"'I buy hair,' said Madame. 'Taker yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it.'"
"As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both."
"Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
"Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer."
"The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit."
"Let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present."
"[The magi] invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication."
"But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest."
1. The opening line, "One dollar and eight-seven cents" (in 1905) is equivalent to how much in today's dollars? Here's an Inflation calculator Why is this amount both important and unimportant in the story?
2. Define irony and how O. Henry's employs it in the story.
4. Do Della's and Jim's reactions to their predicament giving up their most valued possesions for gifts that are now useless surprise you? Rather than be angry at eachother or sad, Jim suggests they put the presents away for awhile and says, "And now suppose you put the chops on." How do material possessions compare to their true love for one another?
5. Della coveted the hair combs without the least hope of possession, and now that they were hers, she couldn't use them. Think of a situation in your own life that might be defined as ironic.
6. Why did O. Henry choose this simile? "Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail."
7. Describe O. Henry's use of Biblical references (the magi, King Solomon, Queen Sheba) and his use of symbolism that Ella and Jim are the magi. Link to The Holy Bible, Book of Matthew
8. Compare the events of "The Adoration of the Magi" to O. Henry's story. Recommended reading: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 's poem, The Three Kings , particularly noting his lines: "They [the people] thought the Wise Men were men insane" and, after the kings presented their precious gifts: "And the mother wondered and bowed her head, and sat as still as a statue of stone; her heart was troubled yet comforted..."
9. Describe the meaning of "wise" in the story. What does "word to the wise" mean (still a commonly used idiom)?
10. What's the definition of a "meaningful gift"? Why do you think this story is particularly touching at Christmas?
11. Compare the elements of irony in Federigo's Falcon with The Gift of the Magi . Identify literary devices used by each author to engage his reader in the protagonists' plight.
12. Read O. Henry's story, The Last Leaf , compare its themes of sacrifice and irony with The Gift of the Magi .
Essay prompt #1 : Describe your own philosophy of gift giving (and receiving) and what makes for the most meaningful gifts. Relate your experiences to the story.
Essay prompt #2 : Think of an incident which you consider ironic in your own life (or relate a movie or story where irony is central to the plot). Why is irony so appealing to readers/viewers? Discuss how coming to terms or resolving the conundrum is important.
Paired Reading Suggestions
Compare The Gift of the Magi to other stories of the sub-genre "dramatic irony":
Federigo's Falcon The Last Leaf Caline The Ambitious Guest (this one is scary irony)
When comparing uses of dramatic irony, discuss plot, themes, the role of irony in engaging the reader, and contrasts that make each story unique.
Teachers : Challenge students to identify other stories they've read which contain dramatic irony, perhaps assign them to compose their own, to more fully appreciate the richness and appeal of irony in storytelling. It's both a pleasure for the audience and the writer!
Biography and Works by O. Henry
Is It Actually Ironic? 3 TED-Ed lessons on irony
Gift of the Magi Q & A
Storyboard That Plot Diagram for The Gift of the Magi
Complete List of Major and Minor Characters in the Bible
The Holy Bible, Book of Matthew
Inflation calculator: 1905 dollars in 2017
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Analysis of “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
Summary of “The Gift of the Magi”
Table of Contents
- “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry is a heartwarming short story about a young couple, Jim and Della Young, who are deeply in love but struggling to make ends meet. The story occurs during the Christmas season. It focuses on the couple’s attempts to buy each other meaningful gifts for the holiday. Despite their limited financial resources, the two young people are determined to show their love for each other and are willing to make sacrifices. The story is filled with humor, irony, and tender moments that showcase the power of love and sacrifice.
The story begins by describing the couple’s tiny apartment and their limited means. Despite these challenges, they are still deeply in love and are determined to find a way to show it. Della, in particular, is focused on finding the perfect gift for Jim, but she has limited funds and can only afford to purchase one item. She decides to sell her most prized possession, her long, beautiful hair, to a wig maker, to buy Jim a gold watch chain. Meanwhile, Jim is determined to purchase a gift for Della and sells his gold watch, which had been passed down to him from his father, to buy her a set of combs for her hair.
The irony of the situation is that the gifts they buy for each other are worthless without the things they sell. Della’s combs cannot be used without her hair, and Jim’s watch chain cannot be attached to his watch. However, this does not diminish the value of the gifts, as they symbolize the couple’s love and sacrifice. They have given up something of great personal value to show their love for each other, and in doing so, they have demonstrated the depth of their feelings.
The character of Della and Jim are also noteworthy, as they are both endearing and admirable. Della is depicted as a warm, loving, and thoughtful woman willing to sacrifice for the man she loves. On the other hand, Jim is depicted as a hardworking, dependable, and devoted husband. He is deeply in love with Della and is willing to do whatever it takes to make her happy. Together, they embody the true spirit of Christmas and show what it truly means to give of oneself for the sake of another.
Thematic Analysis of “The Gift of the Magi”
“The Gift of the Magi” is a short story that explores the themes of love, sacrifice, and generosity. The story tells of a young couple, Jim and Della Young, who are deeply in love but very poor. They are willing to do anything to give each other the perfect Christmas gift. Ultimately, they sacrifice their most valuable possessions to buy gifts for each other, showing their deep love and generosity.
Love is one of the main themes of the story. The love between Jim and Della is unconditional and selfless. They are willing to give up their most valuable possessions to show their love for each other. This theme of love is demonstrated through their actions and how they treat each other. Despite their poverty, they are content with each other, and their passion makes them rich.
Another notable theme in the story is sacrifice. Both Jim and Della are willing to sacrifice their most valuable possessions to show love and appreciation for each other. Jim offers his gold watch, a gift from his father, to buy Della’s gift, and Della sacrifices her long, beautiful hair, which she has always treasured, to buy Jim’s gift. The sacrifices they make are not just physical possessions but also emotional ones. They are giving up what is most precious to them for their love for each other.
The theme of generosity is also evident in “The Gift of the Magi.” Despite their poverty, Jim and Della are willing to give up their most valuable possessions to make each other happy. Their generosity is not just limited to the gifts they give each other but is also seen in how they treat each other. They are always willing to put each other’s needs before their own. This theme of generosity is what makes the story so touching and inspiring.
Moral of the Story
The moral of the story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry is that true love is selfless and sacrificial. The two main characters, Jim and Della, both sold their most prized possessions to buy Christmas gifts for each other. Although their gifts were not what the other expected, the sacrifice showed their love for each other. This story reminds us that the actual value of a gift lies not in its monetary worth but in love and thought that goes into it. It also teaches us that love is not just about receiving but also giving and sacrificing. The story’s moral is that true love knows no bounds and is willing to make sacrifices for the beloved’s happiness.
In conclusion, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry is a timeless story that explores love, sacrifice, and generosity themes. The story demonstrates how love can overcome poverty and how selflessness and generosity can bring joy to others. The themes in the story are still relevant today, and the story continues to be a beloved classic that inspires people to show love and kindness to those around them.
To conclude, “The Gift of the Magi” is a beautiful and touching story that showcases the power of love and sacrifice. O. Henry’s writing style is engaging and filled with humor, and the characters of Della and Jim are endearing and admirable. The story serves as a reminder of the importance of love and giving, especially during the holiday season. It is a classic piece of literature that has captured the hearts of generations of readers, and its message of love and sacrifice is timeless.
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Literary Analysis: The Gift of the Magi
- Author: arsalan
- Posted on: 2 Sep 2019
- Paper Type: Free Essay
- Subject: English
- Wordcount: 1378 words
- Published: 2nd Sep 2019
O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is the touching story of a poor, young couple whose love knows no bounds and they’re ready to sacrifice their most, and more importantly, their only , valuable possessions to find the perfect Christmas gifts for each other. In their willingness to give up all they have – they prove to be the wisest of all gift-givers – as wise as the Magi. For by sacrificing their most treasured possessions, they gain something even more valuable: the purity of true love which is beyond all worldly wealth. The story first appeared in The New York Sunday World in December, 1905 and subsequently featured in O. Henry’s anthology of short stories titled The Four Million in 1906. “The Gift of the Magi” is a timeless classic that offers a memorable ironic twist and draws upon rich biblical imagery to drive home the lesson that true love is borne out of sacrifice thus embodying the true Christmas spirit.
In “The Gift of the Magi” O. Henry employs irony as a literary device to unravel the bitter-sweet story of the Dillinghams. With Christmas around the corner, Della feels that she could not celebrate the joyous occasion without expressing her love for her husband through the most perfect gift she could find. However, she had only been able to save one dollar and eighty-seven cents, which was not enough for she had wanted to buy him something that was actually “worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim (Henry, 1905).” She can’t bear not giving him anything worthwhile for Christmas so she decides to sell her only valuable possession: her beautiful long hair that Henry describes as a “cascade of brown waters” that reached well below her knees. This sacrifice gets her enough money to buy the perfect gift for Jim: a chain of solid gold for his watch that had the “quietness and value” that was characteristic of her husband. However, in an ironical twist of fate, Jim had already sold his treasured watch to buy his wife a set a pretty combs she had once admired, which are rendered equally useless as “the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone” (Henry, 1905). What Della and the reader see as Jim’s disappointment in his wife’s loss of her beauty, ironically turns out to be a disappointment at the realization that the gift he had so lovingly bought for his wife would go to waste. The bittersweet irony of the situation is evident in Jim’s words when he tells his wife that they better put their Christmas presents away for “they’re too nice to use just at present”, the truth being that they simply just can’t use the presents that they had gone to such lengths to buy.
The irony is further compounded by the fact that the gifts, though apparently useless, were borne out of love and sacrifice which embodies the true Christmas spirit. Della and Jim sold off their most valuable things in order to buy worthwhile gifts for each other. The gifts though precious on their own, turned out to be useless without the valuable possessions they had done away with. O. Henry calls them “two foolish children…who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house” (Henry, 1905). It is ironical that though apparently foolish, the young couple turned out to be as wise as the Magi in their gift-giving as Henry subsequently explains “of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest.” By giving away their most valuable possessions they got something even more valuable in return: knowledge of true love for each other which is more priceless than any worldly possession.
The story “The Gift of the Magi” draws heavily upon biblical imagery and references to evoke the spirit of love and sacrifice that is characteristic of Christmas. O. Henry resorts to biblical imagery to describe the significance of the Dillingham’s most prized possessions: Della’s hair and Jim’s watch. Though the Dillingham’s were poor and could hardly make ends meet, they had two valuable assets that were worth the envy of the greatest kings and queens as stated by many apps . Here O. Henry refers to the biblical descriptions of the might and grandeur of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Della had such long, beautiful hair that would make even Queen Sheba envious and “depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts” (Henry, 1905). Similarly, Jim’s elegant watch would outdo all of King Solomon’s treasures and possessions and would make him “pluck his beard with envy” every time Jim walked by. The legendary riches and wealth of King Solomon and Queen Sheba are reduced to nothing when compared to the Dillingham’s treasured possessions. Their value can be gauged from the stark comparison to the impoverished conditions in which the young couple live. Della wears an “old brown jacket and an old brown hat” and Jim “needed a new overcoat and was without gloves” (Henry, 1905). Despite their utter poverty, they are willing to sacrifice valuables that are to them worth more than treasures of kings and queens. For the love they have for each other is greater.
The title “The Gift of the Magi” itself is an allusion to the wise sages/kings from the East who had bestowed valuable gifts upon infant Christ and thus said to have begun the tradition of gift-giving on Christmas. Della and Jim, despite their meagre means, have so much love for each other that they are willing to sacrifice all that they have for the sake of the other. Though in the eyes of the world they may be foolish, yet in the eyes of the Lord their act of sacrifice is seeped with the wisdom of the Magi for true love is all about sacrificing one’s needs for the one you love. This is the true Christmas spirit of love and sacrifice that compels O. Henry to bestow the young lovers with the honor of being the Magi.
Henry, O. (1905). The gift of the magi. The Four Million . New York: Doubleday, Page & Company. Retrieved from https://americanliterature.com/author/o-henry/short-story/the-gift-of-the-magi
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The Gift of the Magi Essay: Summary & Analysis
Looking for The Gift of the Magi essay? Summary and analysis of the themes, characters, and irony in the short story by O’Henry are below.
- Main Characters
- Main Themes
- Personal Opinion
O. Henry, an American writer, is famous for his short stories with an unpredictable ending. The Gift of the Magi is one of his masterpieces, which has become a traditional Christmas tale. In this story, the author shows genuine love between young spouses, which is more precious than any material possessions. In this essay, the plot will be summarized, the main themes and characters will be discussed, and personal opinions will be given.
The Gifts of the Magi Summary
The story takes place just before Christmas, and Della Young is concerned about what she should give her husband, Jim, as a present. She counts her savings and finds only $1.87, which is not enough to buy a worthy gift. She is frustrated since she wants to present her husband with something he deserves for his hard work. Della tries to find a way out of the situation and finally comes up with an idea. The most precious thing she has is her long shining brown hair. After she looks at it in the mirror, she dresses up and goes to Madame Sofronie, a hairdresser. The woman cuts Della’s hair quickly and gives her $20.
Having enough money, Della visits several shops to find a present for Jim. She is not satisfied with anything she finds until she knows exactly what she needs. Della remembers that her husband’s most valuable thing is his gold watch, but he has to wear it with a leather strap since the original one has been broken. The woman finds a platinum chain that will perfectly suit the watch, pays $21 for it, and goes home.
When Jim arrives and sees his wife without her gorgeous hair, he becomes surprised and puzzled. Della cannot understand his reaction until she unpacks his present for her. She discovers a set of combs that she has desired for a long time, but since she does not have her long hair anymore, they appear to be useless. To comfort her husband, she hands him the platinum chain, only to find out that Jim has sold his gold watch to buy a present for her. Jim suggests they should put away their Christmas gifts and have dinner. The story ends with the statement that Della and Jim are the wisest of those who give presents.
The Gifts of the Magi Characters
Della is one of the two main characters of the story. She is young and beautiful, and she is distinguished by her complete devotion to her husband. Della appreciates him so much that she does not agree to present him with some trifle because he deserves something precious. For this reason, she dares sell her hair, which is the only treasure she possesses. She explains to Jim that she “couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present” (O. Henry 5). Apart from being deeply in love with her husband, Della is a highly emotional person. She does not hold back her tears when she is desperate and does not restrain her laugh when she is happy. Moreover, her mood can change in an instant, which happens when she grieves over her haircut, and the next moment she is anxious to give Jim his Christmas gift. Perhaps, the abundance of emotions contributed to Della’s deep affection for her husband.
Since Jim appears on the scene only at the end of the story, readers do not know his thoughts, but they see his actions. Like Della, Jim sacrificed the most precious thing he had, his gold watch, to buy a present for his wife. Thus, it may be assumed that he is as deeply in love with Della as she is with him. After all, the story is intended to show true affection, which is why the author made his characters so pure and loving.
The Gifts of the Magi Themes
The major theme of the story is pure love, which is the most valuable thing in the world. It is unconditional since Della and Jim do not need anything special from each other; they are just happy to be together. When Della counts her scarce savings, she does not even think to blame her husband for earning little money. On the contrary, she is happy to be his wife and wants to give him the best present she can afford ( Study Guide 5). Due to the couple’s sacrifices, the author compares them to the magi who brought presents to baby Jesus (Zhang and Wang 657). However, he says that Jim and Della are wiser because they gave each other the most precious gift in the world, which is pure love (Zhang and Wang 657). Thus, the story conveys the idea of a relationship that should be pursued by everyone.
The Gift of the Magi also tackles the theme of wealth and poverty. According to Nagel, the story “resonates throughout American marriages, many of which went through periods of economic struggle at some point” (102). Indeed, the Young family is very poor, and Della has to haggle with vendors over every single penny (Tong 207). Even though they hardly make ends meet, Della and Jim are happy because they possess a much greater treasure than money – their love. As Zhang and Wang rightly stated, “There is no pure love in the world of money while there is no money in the world of love” (657). The story, therefore, conveys the idea that material possessions do not play a significant role in human life because deep affection is the only thing that matters.
The Gifts of the Magi Critique
Although the story is written to show readers pure love and encourage them to pursue this feeling in their lives, it seems slightly unreasonable when regarded from a realistic rather than a romantic point of view. The exchange of useless gifts would not have happened if the spouses had discussed their desires and plans with each other. Perhaps, they could have agreed upon a festive dinner or something pleasant for both, which would have saved their money and their personal treasures. After all, communication is a crucial part of a strong relationship. Therefore, instead of sacrificing something precious to surprise one’s partner, one had better inform him or her of one’s plans to avoid possible unpleasant consequences.
In conclusion, The Gift of the Magi is a kind and inspiring story about two young people truly loving each other. Their love is revealed by their willingness to sacrifice the most valuable things they own to bring joy to each other. Apart from the theme of affection, the story is concerned with the concepts of poverty and wealth. It asserts that rich people are not those with much money but those who love and are loved in return.
Nagel, James. The American Short Story Handbook . John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
O. Henry. The Gift of the Magi . Strelbytskyy Multimedia Publishing, 2018.
Study Guide for O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi.’ Gale, Cengage Learning, 2015.
Tong, Lu. “A Brief Analysis on the Typical Writing Styles of O. Henry.” Advances in Economics, Business and Management Research , vol. 30, 2016, pp. 205-208.
Zhang, Yue, and Lijun Wang. “On Different Types of Love Stories Written by O. Henry.” Journal of Language Teaching and Research , vol. 6, no. 3, 2015, pp. 656-661.
The Gifts of the Magi FAQ
- What Is the Theme of The Gift of the Magi? The main theme in the story by O’Henry is unconditional love. Sacrificing their most precious things to make the other one happy, Della and Jim show that love is more important for them than any material possessions.
- What Is the Irony in The Gift of the Magi? The most ironic episode in The Gift of the Magi takes place when Della opens the box with the gift from Jim. When she sees the tortoise shell combs, for a moment, she forgets that her hair isn’t long enough so she can use them.
- What Point of View Is The Gift of the Magi? The Gift of the Magi is written in the third person point of view. The narrator is a non-participant. The story is told using pronouns like “she,” “he,” “they,” and “it.”
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Home » Guides » The Gift of the Magi Study Guide » The Gift of the Magi Literary Analysis
The Gift of the Magi Literary Analysis
Literary analysis of the gift of the magi.
Introduction The popular short story ‘The Gift of the Magi’ was written by American writer William Sydney Porter who later changed his name to O’ Henry after he came out from Prison where he had been incarcerated for embezzlement in 1898 in Columbus, Ohio. The story was first published in December 10th, 1905 in The New York Sunday World and then on April 10, 1906 it appeared in O’ Henry’s second short story collection. Plot Summary The story is that of a young couple Jim and Della Young. In the story we are confronted by a depiction of a couple living in poverty. The only possession of note that the couple have which can qualify for treasure are a gold pocket watch Jim got from his grandfather through his dad, and Della’s long beautiful hair that cascades down to her knees. The story opens on Christmas Eve, and we find Della fretting in despair as the time ticks away for her to buy her husband Jim a worthy Christmas present. After some contemplative moment standing over a pathetic piece of reflective glass that she uses as a mirror, Della goes out to cut her beautiful hair which she sold for $20.00 and used the money a acquire a gift for Jim; a platinum chain that she had seen in a shop valued at $21.00. Della is of the opinion that the chain is perfect for Jim’s prized pocket watch. When Jim returns home from work, we find him staring at Della, trying to understand what happened to her lustrous hair. Della then presents her Christmas gift to Jim and tells him that she sold her hair to buy him the present. Jim on his part gives his wife an ornamented hair comb that she had longed for. The irony of the situation now dawns on the characters as well as the reader: the gifts are now useless since they cannot be used because what they could be used with had been sold to acquire them. Theme and Moral The story uses the literary technique of irony to resolve a well-crafted narrative. The technique of irony simply put is when expectation is different from outcome. In this story, the couple sell their most treasured possessions to acquire gifts for each other that at the end they couldn’t use because they could only practically use it with the possessions they had sacrificed to buy the gifts. Beyond irony, the theme of sacrifice and love is fully deployed in this literary works. On a practical sense, Della and Jim acted in the typical sentimental foolishness associated with love by not only wasting money to buy the other a present they weren’t going to use, they also had to lose their most prized possessions in the process. However, on a deeper fundamental level this foolish act becomes a metaphor of
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The Gift of the Magi – Literary Analysis
Gift of the Magi was written in 1910. We are told that it is Christmas Eve, and can see from the description of the building that Jim and Della live in that it is a poor neighborhood. The major hint as to which city they live in is that Della had worshiped the combs in a Broadway window . Although there are “Broadways” in a number of US cities, we can assume that this one is in New York because of the additional reference to a Coney Island chorus girl . The year is most likely somewhere between 1906 and 1910. The flat is old but has electric buttons in the entry area downstairs. Electricity first became widely available in New York City in the 1890s, suggesting that the story takes place sometime after 1900. Jim has just had a large cut in pay. The U.S. economy performed strongly from the late 1890s until 1906. It then suffered a major economic downturn, which lead to a financial crisis in 1907.
Point of View and Tone
The story is told in the third person by a limited omniscient narrator. The narrator tells us Della’s thoughts, but no one else’s. As well as relating the story of Jim and Della, he/she also shares some personal views: Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
The tone of the narrator towards Bella and Jim is understanding and sympathetic. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. …Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two – and to be burdened with a family! . The tone of the narrator towards the reader is playful and philosophical: For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year… what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them.
The main themes of the story are Love, Sacrifice and Wisdom . Jim and Della show their love by giving up their most valued possession to buy each other something special for Christmas. At the end of the story, the narrator refers to them as both unwise and the wisest . They are unwise because it is not necessary to give expensive gifts when you are poor and so much in love; they are the wisest because they thought only of the other person and not of themselves when they bought their gifts.
There are several possible minor themes in the story. These are:
- Beauty : Della is worried that Jim won’t think she is beautiful with short hair. She thinks she looks like a truant schoolboy and that, even worse, Jim will think she looks like a Coney Island chorus girl . The reference to Coney Island is important here. Coney Island was a notorious red-light district at the time, and chorus girls were expected to come down into the hall and “sit” with men after performing. Jim, of course, proves Della wrong. Interestingly, we aren’t told what Jim thinks of her new look. After he gets over the shock, all he says about it is: I don’t think there’s anything… that could make me like my girl any less. The message here is that if you really love somebody, they are beautiful to you no matter how they look.
- Giving : Della and Jim both feel that it is important to give nice gifts to each other to express their love. In the last paragraph the narrator calls them two foolish children because of this, as it should not be necessary to buy expensive gifts to prove your love. We learn enough of Della’s character to see that she would have been very happy with anything that Jim gave her. I think we can also safely conclude that Jim would have been happy with the pair of gloves we are told that he needed… and which Della probably could have bought with her $1.87!
- Value : Sometimes the things that we hold dear are worth a lot more to us than their commercial value. Della must have been growing her hair for many years. It was her pride and joy. However to Madame Sofronie, it was just “hair”… worth no more than one month of Jim’s wages. Jim’s gold watch was his only family heirloom, handed down to him from from his grandfather and father. We don’t know how much he got when he sold it, but it was probably much less than its sentimental value.
Characters and Conflicts
- The Protagonists: Della, determined, devoted, emotional, excitable, impulsive, loving, selfless, warm and Jim, devoted, proud, reliable, selfless, serious
- The Antagonist: Poverty, the state of being in which Della and Jim live.
- Minor Character: Madame Sofronie, cold, professional
- Internal Conflicts: Jim and Della’s decisions about whether to sell their most prized possessions.
- External Conflict: Jim and Della’s struggle against poverty. (Man vs. Society)
Dramatic Structure and Moods
- Exposition: Della at home thinking about Christmas. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Mood: Sad and Hopeless
- Rising Action: 1. Della’s decision to sell her hair. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street. Mood: Hopeful. 2. Della shopping for Jim’s gift. The next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Mood: Joyous 3. Della at home waiting for Jim. If Jim doesn’t kill me… he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. Mood: Nervous 4. Jim comes home and sees Della’s hair. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that… terrified her. Mood: Suspenseful
- Climax: Jim hugs Della. Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. Mood: Uplifting
- Falling Action: Jim gives Della the combs. She hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile. Mood: Warm:
- Denouement: Jim tells Della about selling the watch. Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled. Mood: Amusing and Happy
Examples of Literary Techniques
- Alliteration: 1. sudden serious sweetness 2. sobs, sniffles, and smiles
- Allusion: The references to the King and Queen of Sheba and King Solomon in the story.
- Foreshadowing: Now, there were two possessions… in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair.
- Hyperbole: 1. Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he (King Solomon) passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy. 2. It (the fob chain) surely had been made for Jim and no one else.
- Imagery: Della looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard .
- Irony: The exchange of the precious gifts that could not be used. (Situational)
- Metaphor: 1. The central metaphor in the story is the comparison between Jim and Della and the Magi. They are the Magi. 2. Della saved money by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher. 3. the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings.
- Personification: 1. Her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. 2. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent soul.
- Simile: 1. Della’s hair fell around her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. 2. Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail.
Could Della be Pregnant?
There is an intriguing line in the story which suggests Della could be pregnant:
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two – and to be burdened with a family!
It is not clear whether the narrator is suggesting that Jim is already burdened with a family (as in his existing union with Della), or that the word “to” indicates that the family burden is coming in the future. Although Della is described as being slender, she could be in the early stages of pregnancy. This could be explain some of her highly emotional reactions during the story:
- There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.
- And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
If Della is pregnant and aware of the situation, different conclusions may be reached in relation to her character. Her hair, which will take many years to regrow, is the only family asset that can readily be sold to support the costs of a baby. Instead of being among “the wisest of the wise”, Della may better be described in the narrator’s terms as a “foolish child who most unwisely sacrificed the greatest treasure of their house”.
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The Gift of the Magi | Criticism
SOURCE: “O. Henryism,” in Short Story-Writing: An Art or a Trade?, Thomas Seltzer, Inc., 1923, pp. 29–47.
In the following essay, Fagin provides an overview of O. Henry's short stories and praises the ingenuity of “The Gift of the Magi.”
The mottoes of most of our fiction periodicals are told on their covers: “A magazine of clever fiction,” “A magazine of bright fiction,” “A magazine of entertaining fiction,” “A magazine of frisky fiction.” But with all the available supply of novel plot material exhausted by writers who had the good fortune of being here before our generation had an opportunity, what is left to us is neither clever, bright, nor entertaining. However, O. Henry proved that it was possible to take the same age-old material and brighten it up with a coat of sparkling cleverness. He had but to juggle his incidents in such a way as to make them...
The Gift of the Magi
Everything you need for every book you read., madame sofronie.