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Is Della and Jim's love believable in O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi"?

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ivygirl66 | eNoter

Posted July 17, 2013 at 4:59 AM via web

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Is Della and Jim's love believable in O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi"?

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

Posted July 17, 2013 at 5:40 AM (Answer #1)

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"The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry, is a short story which is all about love and sacrifice. Jim and Della Young are a married couple who have few possessions but love one another sacrificially.

The story is set at Christmastime, when each of them wants to be able to get the other a nice gift. Della had hoped to buy "something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim." Jim wanted to do the same for Della. Both have one possession they value above all else: she has long, luxuriant hair and he has a "gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s." The story is a familiar one; Della sells her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch and Jim sells his watch to buy combs for Della's hair. 

The story was published in 1906 and seems a bit antiquated to many readers, prompting the question of whether their love is perhaps too perfect and therefore unbelievable. While the story is quaint and a little old-fashioned, the Youngs' love is quite believable. The demonstrations of love in this story are repeated all the time by people all around the modern world. Some men and women sacrifice their time by working extra hours to get something nice for a spouse; others do without things they particularly want in order to give something special to someone they love. The nature of love is sacrifice, and people do it all the time but do not necessarily call much attention to themselves as they do it. 

The story sounds like it might be too good to be real in some ways, but Della experiences the same emotions we all do. She is frustrated, sad, frightened, and ashamed (because she looks so cheap when she bargains for her groceries) as she goes through the process of buying Jim's gift. We presume the same for Jim, though the story is not told from his perspective. Neither of them is angry at the other when the gifts are revealed; in fact, Jim settles the matter with humor when he suggests they put their "Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present."

The Youngs were once more prosperous, but they have fallen on hard times. Despite that, they are happy. 

[W]henever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young.

The love Jim and Della have for one another may seem ideal, or even unbelievable, because we only see one aspect of it; however, the same kind of sacrificial love is recognizable in households all over the world. 

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