Both “The Necklace” and “The Gift of the Magi” have plots that depend in large measure on the use of situational irony to create a surprise ending. “The Necklace” tells the story of Madame Mathilde Loise, a lowly clerk’s wife, who, in an effort to appear more debonaire than she is, borrows expensive jewels from Madame Jeanne Forestier, a wealthy friend. After the inevitable loss of the jewels, Madame Loisel and her husband secretly replace the jewels. Years later, Madame Loise, now impoverished, encounters Madame Forestier on the streets of Paris and admits to the secret. Madame Forestier, shocked by the change in Loise, explains that the necklace was merely costume jewelry. The situational irony that both the reader and Madame Loise experience simultaneously is the twist, the unexpected turn of events that is both a perfect example of irony and the very element that makes the plot so original and memorable.
Similarly, “The Gift of the Magi” employs irony to provide the unexpected ending. A young couple, barely able to feed and house themselves, sells their most valuable possessions to buy presents for each other. In an ironic catch typical of O’Henry, Della sells her hair to buy a watch fob for Jim, her husband. Jim, in turn has secretly sold his watch to buy the tortoise-shell combs Della dreamed of running through her long, dark hair. The story makes use of both dramatic irony and situational irony to create the literally-doubly ironic ending: both “sacrifice for each other the greatest treasures of their house.”
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