By Michael J. Cummings...© 2006
.......On the day before Christmas, Della has only $1.87 in savings with which to buy a gift for her husband, James Dillingham Young. Flopping down on the couch of their apartment, she cries—howls, actually. .......She had squeezed every spare penny out of household expenses, and still there was not enough for the wonderful present she dreamed of getting for Jim. Times are tough. Jim’s salary, formerly $30 a week, is now only $20 a week. .......Suddenly, Della gets an idea. Whirling about the room, she lets down her hair. It is one of two prized possessions between her and Jim, the other being the gold pocket watch handed down to him from his father. A moment later, Della goes down the street to Madame Sofronie’s shop, where the sign reads “Hair Goods of All Kinds.” There, Della sells her hair for $20. .......After shopping for two hours, she finds just the right gift, a platinum fob chain to replace the old leather strap attached to his watch. It is simple and elegant, and it costs $21, leaving Della 87 cents. After returning home, she uses curling irons to give herself a new hairdo, puts coffee on, gets pork chops ready for frying, then prays that Jim will like her new look. It is seven o’clock. When he walks in, he stares at her. His gaze is long and unrelenting. Worried that he is displeased with her appearance, Della tells him that she sold her hair “because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present.” Jim seems bewildered. .......“You’ve cut off your hair?”
......."Cut it off and sold it," Della says.
.......“You say your hair is gone?”
.......A moment later, he comes out of his “trance” and enfolds Della in his arms. Then he takes a package from his overcoat and tosses it onto a table. He tells his wife nothing she could do would make him love her any less. However, he adds, the package will explain why he reacted strangely upon seeing her. After opening the present, she cries out with joy, then bursts into tears. Her gift is a set of expensive, turtoise-shell combs she had long eyed in a shop window. To comfort him, she says, “My hair grows so fast, Jim!” .......Then Della gives him his present. As the reader by now suspects and as the story confirms, Jim had sold his pocket watch to buy the combs. .......However, like the three wise men of long ago, Della and Jim had given perfect gifts. After all, the narrator says, they “sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.” What they gave as presents was worth far more than the chain and the combs. .
.......The action takes place in New York City in a very modest apartment and in a hair shop down the street from the apartment. Although Porter does not mention New York by name, he does refer to Coney Island, the city's most famous amusement park, located in the borough of Brooklyn. Porter lived in New York when he wrote and published the "The Gift of the Magi." Characters
Della Young: Pretty young woman who cuts off her beautiful long hair and sells it to buy a Christmas gift for her husband. James Dillingham Young:Husband of Della. He sells his gold watch to buy a gift for Della. Madame Sofronie: Shop owner who buys Della's hair. .
Type of Work and Year of Publication
.......“The Gift of the Magi” is a short story, one of several hundred written by O. Henry between 1903 and 1910. It was published in a New York City newspaper in 1905 and in a collection, The Four Million, in 1906. The Three Magi
.......The Magi were the so-called three wise men from the east who traveled to Bethlehem, following a bright star, to present gifts to the infant Jesus. The term magi (singular, magus) comes from the Greek word magoi, a rendering of a Persian word for members of a priestly caste. The Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 2, Verse 11) says: "And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him: and opening...