'The Gift of the Magi' by O. Henry

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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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Gift of the Magi: A Literary Masterpiece


When it comes to classic literature, few stories capture the essence of Christmas like "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. This story, published in 1905, has stood the test of time and remains a beloved holiday tale. But what makes it so special? In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll delve into the themes, symbolism, and characters of "The Gift of the Magi" to uncover why it continues to resonate with readers over a century later.


Before we dive into the analysis, let's start with a brief summary of the story. "The Gift of the Magi" follows a young couple, Della and Jim, who are struggling financially but determined to give each other the perfect Christmas gift. Della sells her long, beautiful hair to a wig-maker for twenty dollars, while Jim sells his cherished pocket watch to buy Della a set of combs for her hair. On Christmas Eve, they exchange their gifts only to discover that they have both made sacrifices for gifts that are now useless to them. The story ends with the narrator comparing Della and Jim to the "wise men" who brought gifts to baby Jesus, calling them "the magi."


One of the most prominent themes in "The Gift of the Magi" is sacrifice. Both Della and Jim give up their most prized possessions to make the other happy, showing the depths of their love and devotion. This theme is further emphasized by the comparisons to the magi, who also made great sacrifices to bring gifts to Jesus.

Another theme is the importance of perspective. When Della and Jim realize that their gifts are no longer useful, they could have been angry or disappointed. However, they choose to see the humor and the love behind the situation, which ultimately strengthens their relationship.

A third theme is the meaning of wealth. While Della and Jim are poor in terms of material possessions, they are rich in love and generosity. The story challenges the idea that wealth is measured solely by money and possessions.


O. Henry uses several symbols throughout the story to reinforce its themes. One of the most significant is Della's hair. Her long, beautiful locks represent her femininity and her youth, but also her sacrifice when she cuts it off to buy Jim's gift. This symbol is further emphasized when the narrator compares Della to a "Queen of Sheba" who has lost her treasure.

Jim's pocket watch is another important symbol. It represents his masculinity and his sense of time, but also his sacrifice when he sells it to buy Della's gift. The fact that it is a family heirloom also adds to the significance of the sacrifice.

The gifts themselves are also symbolic. Della's combs represent her desire to enhance her beauty for Jim, while Jim's watch chain represents his desire to impress Della with his masculinity.


Della and Jim are the only two characters in the story, but they are fully realized and complex. Della is described as "quiet and brown" with "large, brown eyes," while Jim is "young and trim" with "close-cropped hair." Despite their poverty, they are both proud and determined individuals.

Della's sacrifice is particularly noteworthy because it subverts traditional gender roles. Women in this time period were expected to have long hair and prioritize their appearance, but Della chooses to sacrifice her hair for the man she loves. Jim's sacrifice is also significant because it challenges the idea of masculinity as being tied to material possessions.


"The Gift of the Magi" is a timeless story that speaks to the universal human experiences of love, sacrifice, and perspective. At its core, it is a story about the true meaning of Christmas - not about the gifts we give or receive, but about the love and generosity that we share with others.

The story is also a commentary on the societal expectations placed on men and women. Della and Jim's sacrifices challenge traditional gender roles and show that love and sacrifice are not limited by gender or societal norms.

Finally, the story emphasizes the importance of perspective. When Della and Jim realize that their gifts are no longer useful, they choose to see the humor and love behind the situation, rather than dwelling on disappointment. This perspective ultimately strengthens their relationship and shows that the way we choose to view a situation can have a profound impact on our lives.


In conclusion, "The Gift of the Magi" is a literary masterpiece that has stood the test of time. Its themes of sacrifice, perspective, and the true meaning of wealth continue to resonate with readers over a century later. Through its use of symbolism and fully realized characters, O. Henry creates a story that is both universal and deeply personal. This holiday season, take a moment to reflect on the lessons of "The Gift of the Magi" and remember that the greatest gift we can give is the gift of love.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Gift of the Magi: A Timeless Tale of Love and Sacrifice

The Gift of the Magi is a classic short story written by O. Henry, first published in 1905. It tells the story of a young couple, Jim and Della, who are struggling to make ends meet during the Christmas season. Despite their financial difficulties, they are determined to give each other the perfect gift, even if it means sacrificing their most prized possessions.

The story is set in a small apartment in New York City, where Jim and Della live. They are deeply in love, but their financial situation is dire. Jim works long hours at a low-paying job, while Della stays at home and tries to make ends meet by selling her hair. As Christmas approaches, they both long to give each other a special gift, but they have no money to spare.

Della decides to sell her most prized possession, her long, beautiful hair, in order to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim, on the other hand, decides to sell his pocket watch in order to buy Della a set of combs for her hair. On Christmas Eve, they exchange their gifts, only to discover that they have both sacrificed their most treasured possessions for each other.

The story is a beautiful portrayal of love and sacrifice. It shows how two people can love each other so deeply that they are willing to give up everything they have in order to make the other person happy. It also highlights the importance of giving, even when you have very little to give.

One of the most striking aspects of the story is its use of symbolism. The title, "The Gift of the Magi," refers to the biblical story of the three wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. In the same way, Jim and Della's gifts to each other are symbolic of the gifts brought by the wise men. They are gifts of love and sacrifice, given with the hope of bringing joy and happiness to the recipient.

Another important symbol in the story is Della's hair. Her long, beautiful hair is a symbol of her femininity and her youth. By cutting it off and selling it, she is sacrificing a part of herself in order to give Jim a gift. This symbolizes the idea that true love requires sacrifice, and that sometimes we must give up something we cherish in order to make someone else happy.

The story also explores the theme of poverty and the struggles faced by those who are living in poverty. Jim and Della are both working hard, but they are barely able to make ends meet. This is a common theme in O. Henry's writing, as he often wrote about the struggles faced by ordinary people in his time.

Despite the hardships faced by Jim and Della, the story is ultimately a hopeful one. It shows that even in the darkest of times, love and generosity can shine through. Jim and Della's love for each other is so strong that it transcends their financial difficulties, and they are able to find joy and happiness in the simple act of giving.

In conclusion, The Gift of the Magi is a timeless tale of love and sacrifice. It is a beautiful portrayal of the power of love to overcome even the most difficult of circumstances. The story's use of symbolism and exploration of themes such as poverty and generosity make it a classic piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

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