Literature / The Gift of the Magi

"The Gift of the Magi" is a 1906 short story by O. Henry, where a poor couple, Jim and Della, has little more than each other. Della sells her beautiful hair to a wigmaker to buy a chain for her man's heirloom watch. On Christmas day, she discovers that Jim has sold his watch to buy her combs for her hair. The original story can be found here.

This story has become one of the all-time classic Christmas stories, and with good reason. It was set as an opera by American composer David Conte. Also frequently used to teach Dramatic Irony. A popular source for Whole Plot Reference; see "Gift of the Magi" Plot.

"The Gift of the Magi" provides examples of:

  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Not long before this story was written, the U.S. minted half-cent, two cent and three cent coins, making it perfectly possible for Della to have $1.87 with $0.60 in pennies. note 
  • "Gift of the Magi" Plot: Trope Namer, and Trope Maker. Della sells her hair to get the money to buy Jim a chain for his watch, and Jim sells the watch to buy Della combs for her hair.
  • Happily Married: Jim and Della clearly love each other very much. In fact, the whole twist of the story happens because of their desire to give each other a Christmas present.
  • Important Haircut
  • Irony: What they did for their gifts makes the other's gift (at least temporarily) useless.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: The narrator. Gets hilariously snarky at points, but towards the end especially shows a deep idealism towards the two "foolish children".
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Della is worried that her hair, once cut short, will make her look like a Coney Island chorus girl.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Jim's watch.
  • Mixed Metaphor: At one point the narrator says "the next hour tripped by on rosy wings," then asks the reader to forget the mixed metaphor.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Della's hair grows very fast, and it reaches to about her knees.
  • Riches to Rags: Downplayed. At one point in the past Jim's salary was as much as thirty dollars a week (described as if it was a prosperous, golden era), but is now twenty dollars a week, with almost half of that going towards the rent.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: A classic example, but still ends on a high note.
  • Shaking Her Hair Loose: Della is said to have hair past her hips, but keeps it pinned up all the time. She lets it down dramatically just before it gets cut off.
  • Short Story: It's only two and a half pages long, but speaks volumes.
  • True Meaning of Christmas: You betcha.
  • Twist Ending: Della gives Jim the watch chain, but he reveals he sold the watch to be able to buy her the combs.