The Gift of the Magi by O Henry Summary, Theme & Analysis

O Henry
O Henry

The Gift of the Magi Summary

The Gift of the Magi may be a well-known story by American story writer O. Henry, the nom de plume of William Sydney Porter. The story first appeared within the NY Sunday World on December 10, 1905, and was later published in O. Henry’s collection The Four Million on April 10, 1906.

The story tells of a young marriage, James, referred to as Jim, and Della Dillingham. The couple has little or no money and lives during a modest apartment. Between them, they need only two possessions that they consider their treasures: Jim’s gold watch that belonged to his father and his grandfather, and Della’s lustrous, long hair that falls almost to her knees.

It’s Christmas Eve, and Della finds herself running out of your time to shop for Jim a Christmas present. After paying all of the bills, all Della has left is $1.87 to place toward Jim’s Christmas present wanting to find him the right gift, out she goes into the cold December day, looking in shop windows for something she will afford.


The Gift of the Magi
                         O Henry

She wants to shop for Jim a sequence for his watch, but they’re all out of her price range. Rushing home, Della pulls down her beautiful hair and stands ahead of the mirror, admiring it and thinking. After a sudden inspiration, she rushes out again and has her hair move sell. Della receives $20.00 for selling her hair, only enough to shop for the platinum chain she saw during a shop window for $21.00.

When Jim comes home from work, he stares at Della, trying to work out what’s different about her. She admits that she sold her hair to shop for his present. Before she will provide it to him, however, Jim casually pulls a package out of his overcoat pocket and hands it to her. Inside, Della finds a pair of costly decorative hair combs that she’d long admired, but are now completely useless since she stops her hair. Hiding her tears, she jumps up and holds out her gift for Jim: the fob. Jim shrugs flop down onto the old sofa, puts his hands behind his head and tells Della flatly that he sold his watch to shop for her combs.

The story ends with a comparison of Jim and Della’s gifts to the gifts that the Magi, or three wise men, gave to Baby Jesus within the manger within the biblical story of Christmas. The narrator concludes that Jim and Della are far wiser than the Magi because their gifts are gifts of affectionand people who give out of affection and self-sacrifice are truly wise because they know the worth of self-giving love.

Theme and Moral

The Gift of the Magi may be a classic example of irony in literature. Irony may be a literary technique during which an expectation of what’s alleged to occur differs greatly from the particular outcome. during this case, Jim and Della sacrifice their most treasured possessions so that the opposite can fully enjoy his or her gift. Jim sells his watch to shop for Della’s combs, expecting her to be ready to use them. Della sells her hair to shop for Jim a sequence for his watch. Neither expects the opposite to possess made that sacrifice.

The irony here works both on a practical and on a deeper, more sentimental level. Both Della and Jim buy one another a present that ultimately seems financially foolish. Being poor, they can not afford to waste money on things they can not use. However, what they get are some things they do not expect: a more intangible gift that reminds them what proportion they love one another and are willing to sacrifice to form one another happy.