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The Gift of the Magi Analysis

Author: Prose of O. Henry Type: Prose Views: 5663

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One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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della counted the money she have in her hand for so many times. She saved this money to buy a Christmas present for his husband, Jim but 1 dollar and 87 cents isn\'t enough to purchase a precious gift for him. On the other hand, Jim suffered a cut-off on his monthly wage and he was a bit problematic how he can buy a gift for Della for Christmas.
They both have a most treasured possession that they had taken care of for so many years. For Della, she had a very long, beautiful and lovely black hair which is up to her knees. when one day she was walking down the street, she saw a sign: \"Madame Sofronie, hair goods of all kinds\". she rushed inside and looked for the owner of the shop. Della then sold her hair and it cost 20 dollars. after the hair trim session, she bought a chain watch that was a real fit to Jim\'s watch that was passed to him by his father.
As for Jim, his most treasured possession was his watch. he sold his watch to have a fund for a Christmas present for Della. and with that, Jim was able to buy a gift for her wife, a present that would truly make Della happy.
when Jim arrived home, Della had already finished preparing dinner. Jim was shocked when she saw Della nd Della could not figure out Jim\'s reaction. jim handed her his present, it was a set of comb that she had been dreaming of to have. she was really happy but soon realized that she doesn\'t have her long hair anymore. to quickly resolve the feeling of sorrowness on her face, she remembered that she also have a present for Jim. he saw the platinum chain watch as her wife\'s gift. jim\'s was a smile. jim told della that he had sold the watch to buy her a Christmas present. and he told della to just keep the gifts anyway because it was too nice to be used as a present.

| Posted on 2012-02-07 | by a guest

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Three themes:
most important of all - love.
Jim: Della\'s husband, sells his watch to buy her combs.
Della: Jim\'s wife, sells her hair to buy his chain.
Sophronie: Hair buyer who buys Dellas hair.
\"Chops\": pork chops
\"Vestibule\": hallway
Protagonists: Jim and Della
Antagonist: Poverty

| Posted on 2012-01-11 | by a guest

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For anyone who has a question about what the \"Chops\" are, they are pork chops that she is going to make for dinner. The meaning is that even though Jim and Della didn\'t have a lot of money, they still found a way to get each other the Christmas present they\'ve wanted for a while. I would sum this up as they didn\'t make the wisest dicisions of Christmas presents but since they loved each other the money was not really the symbol and it wasn\'t even that they were poor. The point is they sacrificed something important to themselves to get something that was important for the other. So cute ^.^

| Posted on 2012-01-11 | by a guest

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basicaly its a stry bout 2 ppl who sacrifice der prized possesion for each other out of love..so the main theme s sacrifice in the name of love is the wisest thing

| Posted on 2011-01-07 | by a guest

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This may only be
an x of the writing. x x for x or x x x allowed. Due x x x are x be

| Posted on 2010-06-12 | by a guest

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This is a beautiful short story written by o. henry
the theme of this story is 1-generosity born out of love
2-exuberant affection of a married couple
in this story jim and della are compared with the magi or the three wise mens who gave gifts to baby jesus the king of kings.in this story the love and affection of a married couple is shown
in this story the symbol of poverty is jim and della
and symbol of wealth is king solomon and queen sheeba
it is understood from this beautiful story that exchange of gifts started when the magi or wise mens gave gifts to baby jesus which included gold frankincense and myrrh.
thank you all for reading this.

| Posted on 2010-06-04 | by a guest

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i want to knw, Is there any kind of psychological perspectives in O.Henry's short stories?

| Posted on 2010-04-22 | by a guest

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what is the conflict????
internal or external?
individual vs _?

| Posted on 2010-02-11 | by a guest

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um well it was goood and nicee butt i thoughted it shuld hav more worms and less spac.

| Posted on 2010-01-05 | by a guest

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well i dnt noe exactly buh ill still giv it a try...d significance of the title is dat both della n james r compard 2 d three magi hu presentd their gifts 2 baby jesus ven he was born (thus cums in d tradition of presentin 1 wid gifts on christmas day) however dese gifts ver of no use 2 baby jesus as he was the son of God n already had all those gifts....similarly, della n james gave each other gifts dat ver of no use 2 eithr of dem as dey both had sacrifised their pricd possessions for vich their gifts ver meant 4....4 example, james presented della wid a set of combs vich she had always wantd by selling off his watch,n della hd sold off her hair 2 buy a platinum fob chain 4 james'watch....in dis way, dey both r compared 2 the magi....

| Posted on 2009-12-21 | by a guest

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does anyone know how to explain O'Henry's style for the story? my class is studying tone and style and I am not sure how to explain it.

| Posted on 2009-09-16 | by a guest

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The title gives the story away. The Magi are often the reference to three wise men (kings?) who visited the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. By tradition they were known as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Each carried a gift (hence Christmas gifts) which were comprised of gold, frankensense and myrr. Gold represented riches, obviously; the smoky fragrance of frankensense was used to carry one's prayers to God and myrr was used to perfume the bodies of the dead. Well, gold was given to the creator of the world! What need of He of gold?! Whose prayers would be heard first, yours or those of God's only Son?! "I am the Way...I am Life...whoever believes in me shall not die..." what need of annointments and perfumes for the dead by the creator of Life itself?! At first glance the kings gave fabulous gifts, but in the end, of no use to the son of God...the gifts of their presence, rather than their presents, were more useful and precious to God than gold, incense and oil. What use of hair combs for one's hair cut short? What use of a watch fob with no watch? In the end, their gifts were their unselfishness and love for one another, not what they gave up or what they acquired, but what they sacrificed for each other...their presence to each other (love) not presents...the gift of the Magi....!

| Posted on 2009-01-14 | by a guest

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Does anyone know what the signifigance of the chops are in the story? I mean it is used 3 times it has to mean something.

| Posted on 2009-01-04 | by a guest

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ok i love this story but what was the theme?? was it for someone you love there is always a sacrifice??

| Posted on 2008-12-17 | by a guest

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Here's one for all you accountant types who read "The Gift of the Magi". What is the significance of the $1.87 which opens the story? And ... if Della has 60 cents of it in pennies, what other coins does she have to make the remainder of the sum?
--[b]SONNET CLV[/b]--

| Posted on 2008-12-11 | by a guest

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Sophronie -- the hair seller in O.Henry's "Gift of the Magi." The name is another of the wonderful ironies of O.Henry's story. Note the author provides a clue to the irony when he remarks of the lady that she hardly appeared the Sophronie. The name derives from the Greek for sensible or prudent. We can consider Della's action of selling her hair as not being sensible. The story itself is not about presenting sensible gifts. There is an irony in the very fact that Della presents her hair to a "sensible" person, who does not seem sensible -- she takes the hair rather than counsels Della on her rashness. Note that O.Henry tells us that both Jim and Della are in need of coats (and gloves and hats). But neither seeks to purchase the sensible gift. Rather, they get the one thing the other most desires, however unsensible. And in the end they end up with gifts completely useless to them, rather than useful (as the coats would have been). Alas ... but would there be any story in purchasing the sensible gifts? "The Gift of the Magi" remains a great story for its ironies and sheer magic of its plot. Well worth reading and re-reading.

| Posted on 2008-12-11 | by a guest

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the story is all about a couple who sucrifice their greatest possession in life just to make each other happy!

| Posted on 2008-12-08 | by a guest

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Question what is meaning or significance of the title???

| Posted on 2008-12-05 | by a guest

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Just one question... What is this story about? I have horrible reading comprehension. No idea what it's about.

| Posted on 2008-11-19 | by a guest

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i have absolutly no clu what soeronie or soerfie or what ever it is means...but i do have homework due on it.mayb you(whoever this is)could give us the explination on words people wouldnt know.

| Posted on 2008-11-04 | by a guest

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"The Gift of the Magi" was very well written, O'Henry is a great writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am still trying to figure out "The Cop and the Anthem," however...

| Posted on 2008-10-09 | by a guest

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What does something fine rare and sterling mean???

| Posted on 2008-10-06 | by a guest

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who is the protagonist, antagonist, and object of conflict in this story.

| Posted on 2008-09-29 | by a guest

.: :.

who is the protagonist, antagonist, and object of conflict in this story.

| Posted on 2008-09-29 | by a guest

.: The book :.

This story involves the terrible irony of love and passion by devolping a very sad, but yet very graceful plot.

| Posted on 2008-02-20 | by a guest

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