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In the beginning of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, why is Della unhappy?

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quicksilver13 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 12, 2013 at 12:15 AM via iOS

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In the beginning of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, why is Della unhappy?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 12, 2013 at 1:04 AM (Answer #1)

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O. Henry's famous short story "The Gift of the Magi" is about sacrificial love and giving. The main character is Della Young; she and her husband Jim are quite poor. While they each have something they value (she has beautiful, long hair and he has an antique pocket watch), they do not have much money to spend on things other than necessities. 

The opening lines of the story clearly indicate, as your question suggests, that Della is not very happy. In fact, she is quite upset.

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 silenti 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.

Della has been saving, pennies at a time, to buy her husband (whom she loves very much) something nice for Christmas this year. What she would like to give him is a nice fob (chain) for his watch, something she believes would be worthy of Jim's prized possession.

Alas, Della is fully aware that a mere handful of change, totalling less than two dollars, will never buy the kind of gift she wants to give her husband. That is why she is unhappy, and that is why she cries. Fortunately, however, there is laughter in the Youngs' home by the end of the story.

Sources:

Lori Steinbach

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