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The Gift of the Magi by O’Henri Summary and Analysis

Summary and  Analysis of The Gift of the Magi by O’Henri

 

The Gift of the Magi by O’ Henri is a great story in itself; slightly painful and yet engaging and pleasant.  The story is about a young couple who do not have enough funds to buy each other the best gift.  Each one wants to buy his partner a gift but the funds left in their pockets are not enough.  Della and Jim still buy gifts for each other and the gifts turn out to be really the best ever. The Gift of the Magi has a surprisingly beautiful and satisfying ending.  Even amid poverty, love can find a way to express itself.  The two have sacrificed the most valuable things they had. The story shows that the love people have in their hearts for each other can be the biggest gift for Christmas because Christmas is all about love and living for others.  Jim and Della have proved their love and that they would go to any extent to see each other happy.

The Gift of the Magi is one of O’Henri’s masterpieces.  Like most works by the American short story writer, it is also notable for a twisted ending that is both pleasant and painful. In his stories one can see characters resolving awkward situations using ordinary wit and creativity.  The Gift of the Magi too begins with an awkward situation where the poor couple does not have enough money to celebrate Christmas. The author paints a picture of abject poverty and shows how it its pain works to keep love alive.  O’henry does not use complex language but instead cleverly uses words to demonstrate wit. Della has been saving for months and still she has been able to save only $1.87. She has spent hours to plan a beautiful gift but cries to find that she does not have enough money to buy it. Her savings are way too short and she cannot do without giving Jim something he loves. So, at last she decides to sell the best gift she has. Her beautiful hair is like a brown waterfall which she sells for 20 dollars.

After that she is hopping in the streets from one shop to another till she has found the best gift – a beautiful gold watch chain for Jim.  She is satisfied to have bought the gift and when she returns home her heart is glad and satisfied and her mind has grown quiet. Della still looked good and wonderful like a young school boy. She stood before the looking glass for hours and thought that if Jim does not kill her he would at least say she looked like some dancer who danced and sang for money. Her heart was overjoyed but her mind was feeling confused over what would be Jim’s reaction.  Jim was a thin young man, aged twenty two. He returned home and his face did not bear a sign of happiness.  He had an expressionless face with something in his eyes that was difficult for Della to read. She felt a kind of fear and quickly told Jim that he must not be angry. She had sold her hair but it will grow again quick, she tried to convince her husband thinking he was shocked to see her.  Della promised Jim that her hair will grow back soon.  Jim did not say anything but gave Della a hug. He pulled something out of his coat. The gift he had brought Della for Christmas were combs but Della did not have much use for them right now. She could put the gift away till her hair grew back. Della showed her gift to Jim- the gold chain she had bought for him. Jim asked her to keep the gifts away and they could have dinner. He had sold the watch to buy combs for her.

“The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to give Christmas gifts.” They were wise people and their gifts wisest. When wise people do wise things there is nothing big  or extraordinary  about it but when it is two innocent people sacrificing their most valuable belongings for a gift for their beloved, it is something matchless.  This is how the author develops the irony in the story to prove that Della and Jim are Magi and the ones to gift the wisest gifts. Their love is the strongest and their gifts most valuable. The two central characters in the story, Della and Jim  are like innocent kids, newly married and deeply in love. The author shows how poverty makes their love stronger and the two are willing to sacrifice their best gifts to make their love and Christmas memorable. Some of the most important themes in the story are love, sacrifice, poverty, value of partnership and wisdom. Della and Jim’s love and sacrifice for each other are clearly evident. The couple’s poverty is also visible when Della counts her savings or when the author mentions Jim’s salary.

The author has also used some strong symbols to develop the story’s plot and engage the readers. Della’s hair is a symbol of the beauty of love. The looking glass is also a symbol that symbolizes both poverty and longing. Della longs for a beautiful gift while watching the glass and often watches it waiting for Jim to return.  The two gifts they bring for each other are symbols of the strength of love, sacrifice and wisdom. Magi is a metaphor for the true love between the couple and their wise gifts. The author also uses similes in plenty like comparing Della’s hair with a queen’s jewels and Jim’s watch with a  king’s treasures. His language is simple but the clever use of words gives rise to interesting twists that make the story deeply engaging and enjoyable.

Irony in the Gift of The Magi:

The biggest irony on The Gift of the Magi is not evident till the end. However,  this surprising twist adds depth and appeal to the story.  Till close to the end, it is only Della’s story that continues. Her hair, her sacrifice, her love,  her longing and her gift…….. A first time reader would imagine a different end to the plot. With not much mention of Jim till near the conclusion, it seems like the story is all about Della’s love and passion. However, with Jim’s arrival things take a  different turn when the other half of the story is resolved. Jim has been in a similar situation feeling anxious over what to gift Della. From his meager salary, he has not been  able to save anything. Living with limited resources, he is feeling poorer at the arrival of Christmas. There is nothing more precious than Della in his life. He sells away what he has left – his watch to buy what will make his Della more beautiful. Her beautiful brown hair needed combs to keep them flowing like a waterfall.   The biggest irony  is that  when both have bought the best gifts for each other, none of the two can use it. So, they will have to put the gifts away till Della’s hair has grown and till Jim has bought a new watch. The two are like young innocent kids that have to stay satisfied till  they are mature enough. Still, they are the wisest because they handle each other’s emotions with care.  This is what matters the most at Christmas. The irony is that a poor man’s Christmas is very different from a rich man’s Christmas, full of sacrifices,  but still filled with love. The author proves that there is no bigger gift than love in this world.

Sources:

https://americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/1-the_gift_of_the_magi_0.pdf

https://americanliterature.com/author/o-henry/bio-books-stories

https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/metaphors-similes-personification-gift-magi-260018

Written by Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.

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