O. Henry’s parable-like short stories are a tribute to pure love, non-material values, and devotion. Rehman et al. define “The Gift of the Magi” as the story of love, compassion, and care that stand against extreme poverty (264). The background of the story is exemplary for O. Henry’s works as here he also portrays poor working-class people who find kindness and warmth in gray rooms surrounded by cheap furniture. The message of the story can be perceived through the saying “Love is the greatest gift of all” for the characters show the unimportance of all other trivial things in comparison to love.
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Summary of the Story
Jim and Della are a young couple who live in a rented cheap flat and struggle to make ends meet. They do not have valuable possessions except for his gold watch, which he got from his father, and her long beautiful hair. The story develops on Christmas Eve as they both try to find the best presents for each other. Della has managed to save only 1.78$, and the gift she wanted to give Jim is far more expensive, so she cuts her hair and sells it.
For the money that she gets, Della buys a chain for Jim’s gold watch. When he sees Della first, he looks perplexed, but the reason for his reaction is not her short haircut. It turns out that he has sold his watch to buy a set of exquisite combs for his wife, so they both give each other gifts that make no more use.
Nevertheless, they are happy as they have sacrificed their most precious things for the love they have for each other. The author calls his characters “the magi,” referring to the story of the magi who brought gifts to Jesus after his birth (O. Henry 15). Although the presents they gave were more precious than Jim’s and Della’s, their essence was not in price but reverence.
The Main Theme of “The Gift of the Magi”
O. Henry in “The Gift of the Magi” promotes the popular idea that those who give are happier who give, not those who receive, showing people who do not care what they will get for Christmas but spend all their effort on finding presents for their partners. The theme of love is present in many O. Henry’s works. Being poor himself, he advocated for non-material values, portraying characters who were capable of love and affection despite their struggles with money.
The question of moral attitude is set explicitly in the text: “Eight dollars a week or a million dollars a year – how different are they?” (O. Henry 14). Thus, the author implies a simple truth that it does not matter how many things are in a person’s possession when they do not have love.
The story of Della and Jim is the manifestation of pure and generous love that is ready to sacrifice everything. The message concerns the intuitive wisdom that people who love have. O. Henry concludes that “of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise” (15). The sacrifice for love is not unfamiliar to the author as he made such acts himself. When he was imprisoned, he worked hard to collect money for expensive Christmas and birthday presents for his daughter, so the little girl thought that he was in a distant country.
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“The Gift of the Magi,” similarly to the proverb, demonstrates that love is the essential value in human life that helps to overcome struggles. Gifts are valuable not when they are easy to make, but when one needs to sacrifice the only precious thing she or he has. In the example of Jim and Della, O. Henry shows that cheap interiors are nothing when love resides within. Although there are such themes as generosity, devotion, and desire to give, love is the primary driving force of those feelings, and the central theme of the story is best described by the proverb “Love is the greatest gift of all.”
O. Henry. The Four Million: The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories. First Avenue Editions, 2019.
Rehman, Hassin ur, et al. “Sacrification of Beloved Things for the Sake of True and Pure Love with the Special Reference of the Gift of Magi by O. Henry.” International Journal of English and Education, vol. 7, no. 1, 2018, pp. 264-269.