October 10, 2012
“The Gift of the Magi”
"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is a tale rich with the simplicity of times past, while carrying forward one that transcends time an history…the unconditional love and sacrifice of man (Jim) and wife (Della). Published in 1906 in “The Four Million”, it was his first collection of short stories, it included a surprise ending that come to be considered typical of Henry’s other writings. “The story is also thought to exemplify the author's interest in the elements of surprise and trick endings, as the impact of the mutual sacrifice is not revealed until the conclusion of the tale.” 1
Della is the typical mid-20th century housewife, devoted to her husband and their life together. Jim is blue-collar worker that has fallen on hard times, taking a pay cut, but struggles on gracefully, looking forward. Deeply saddened that she is unable to purchase a Christmas gift for Jim that she feels is worthy of his sacrifices, loyalty, love and unselfishness, Della sells her beautiful, long hair in exchange for twenty dollars, feeling the need to show her love for her beloved in a material way.
The tale culminates in a quintessential illustration of cosmic (and/or situational) irony, as is trademark of O. Henry’s stories: both Della and Jim sacrifices something with great significance in order to give something of themselves to each other. Upon giving Jim her special gift, Della explains how she sold her lovely locks that Jim so loved in order to show her love by way of a small token of her affection…only to have Jim, ironically, reveal his surprise: a stunning set of hair combs, “pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims” 2, that Della had adored and longed for. Jim had sacrificed his most-prized possession – a precious gold pocket watch passed down to him by his grandfather – in order to purchase this extravagant gift, which she could not use.
Instead of being disappointed, Della and Jim are...
Cited: 1 "The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry - Introduction." Short Story Criticism. Ed. Justin Karr Editor. Vol. 49. Gale Cengage, 2002. eNotes.com. (http://www.enotes.com/gift-magi-criticism/gift-magi-o-henry/introduction)
2,3 X.J. Kennedy and Dana Giola. “Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, Compact Edition, Sixth Edition” Chapter 5, “The Gift of the Magi”, page 162. ©2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Longman, New York, NY 10036.
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