Literary Analysis of The Gift of the Magi


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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