Literary Analysis of “The Gift of the Magi”

7 July 2016

The twists and turns of the plot as it unfolds within O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” are what simply captivate the reader in such a short amount of pages. The story of Jim and Della on a cold Christmas Eve at the turn of 20th century America is centered around what is remarkably relevant to what many readers have experienced in their own lives; the inevitable stresses, sacrifices, and joys of the holiday season.

Strapped for cash and wanting to give her beloved husband the most luxurious gift for Christmas to express her deep passion for him, we are immediately introduced to the initial situation at hand. With only a dollar and some change to spend on Jim, Della is forced into a situation where she must find a way to acquire the appropriate funds to spend on Jim’s gift, but how? This is what leads us to the major conflict of the short story.

Literary Analysis of “The Gift of the Magi” Essay Example

Though in a more traditional style, a story will introduce you to a situation and will then carry out events that eventually lead to a major conflict. Instead, in O. Henry’s unorthodox style of telling his story, the narrator puts the reader in the midst of an issue that must be resolved. It is said that the hardscrabble couple have only two things that are considered of any high value; Jim’s gold watch and Della’s luscious locks of hair, or “cascade of brown waters” (185) as her hair is referred to.

With this in mind, Della decides, after lengthy tearful contemplation, that she must sell her hair and risk her beauty in exchange for the money to buy Jim’s gift. Though this decision has led to the solution of the original situation at hand of how Della will find money for her gift, it has ultimately led to the most considerable conflict of the story that is the question of whether or not Jim will appreciate her gift, or be upset at the cost of the gift.

The most suspenseful part of the story comes during the rising action and complication within the scene where Della awaits for Jim’s return home from work after she has cut off her hair he had so deeply admired. The narrator compares Della’s now curly-headed appearance to that of a “truant schoolboy” (186) and Della also worries that Jim may think she resembles a “Coney Island chorus girl” (186) as she looks at her reflection and begins to doubt her decision will pay off. As she readies the house for supper, Jim arrives home, and it is at this point that the stories reaches it’s complication.

Jim’s reaction is best defined as shocked and aghast when he sees his short-haired wife. He is visibly neither upset nor elated, but simply stares with little emotional expression at Della. Della, of course, does not know what to make of this reaction and struggles to understand if he approves or not. After finally snapping out of his staggered trance, Jim explains the reasoning for his reaction that is found within the gift that he had bought for Della as we reach the climax of the story.

Jim had bought Della a set of combs that she had coveted for a length of time, but Jim had never been able to get her due to his lack of money. It is now made clear why he had reacted with such shock and it is also made clear that he is not upset with Della’s decision to cut off her hair as he states that “there’s (nothing) in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo” (187) that could make him lose feelings for Della.

This climactic twist in the plot is what may surprise, or ensure, the reader and his or her thoughts of how Jim would react, though the suspense is not yet fully lifted as the reader is still left to guess how Jim may react to what Della spent the money for her hair on, and also how Jim was able to get the money for his gift considering the rather equivalent financial status of both partners at the time.

Following Della’s revealing of the platinum chain for Jim’s watch as her gift to Jim, the suspense is finally released from the scene in the denouement when Jim tells Della, with a genuine smile, that he had sold his watch for the combs. It is at this point that we realize that both of their gifts had become relatively futile to their respective recipients, yet both Jim and Della found themselves more delighted than if they had received the most useful gift in the world.

The conclusion to this story is the narrator’s final paragraphs were he relates the couple to the Magi and praises Jim and Della of being the wisest givers of all, contrary to popular belief. The comparison O. Henry makes between the story of Jim and Della and that of the Magi is rather relevant as the Magi were the ones who are credited with being the origins of the “giving nature” of the Christmas season. In this story, we see a man and a woman so blinded by love that they are willing to make ultimate sacrifices for the happiness of the other.

Similar to the Magi, Della and Tim put each other before themselves and through their generosity and considerable lengths they both went to achieve that generosity is something more admirable than any materialistic gift they could ever offer each other, thus making the uselessness of their gifts irrelevant. This story is a story that can touch any person that has had to gone through a heavy sacrifice or gave up something they so covet in order to enlighten someone else, especially during the holiday seasons.

It is a short narrative that magnifies the intangible value of sentimentality and belittles the importance of physical offerings. Jim and Della equally appreciate the efforts each other made to make the other happy, despite their poorness and struggles. The admiration is not found within the platinum chain or the combs, but through the sacrifices of Della’s hair and Jim’s watch, the most valuable possessions they have, and each partner understands the length each other are willing to go to make the other happy.

The irony of the turnout of events where both partners gave up something to buy something that is rendered inferior by the end of the story adds to the meaning of the story by adding a resemblance between Jim and Della and deepening their endless love for each other. O. Henry’s story redefines the meanings of “value” and “valuable”, just as in the instance where it is stated that Della’s hair and Jim’s watch are the most valuable of their possessions. Because they are so poor, these two things were the only things that could offer a way for them to get enough money to buy their gifts, and essentially turnout to be priceless.

O. Henry makes it blatantly known that love should be the most valuable possession anyone can have, and it is obvious that both Jim and Della have love for each other and therefore do not need anything else to satisfy the other. In all, “The Gift of the Magi”, written in such a folk tale-like manner, is an easy read with deep sentimental values offered throughout its content. It makes one realize that one does not not always have to buy the best gift for someone, but you must make them understand your love for them through some sentimental value, and then you have given and received the best gift of all.

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