In "The Gift of the Magi," why did Jim say the quote below?
"Let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present."
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Key to understanding this quote is an understanding of the massive situational irony of the tale. Both Della and Jim have sold their most precious possession to gain the money they needed to buy their gift for the other. This is situational irony because it is not what we expected. Note Jim's reaction to the present that Della has sold her hair for just before he says the quote you have highlighted:
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his neck and smiled.
The presents are indeed "too nice" to use "at present," because both Jim and Della are now unable to use them. Della has sold her hair and so cannot use the combs, and Jim as sold his watch, and therefore is unable to use his new fob for his watch because he has sold it to gain the combs for Della.
In the short story 'The Gift Of The Magi,' Jim is also trying to do some damage limitation with this quote. It is obvious that the for the moment that the gifts are useless, except in the sense of the sentiment 'it's the thought that counts.' He tries to think of his wife's feelings and make the best of the situation - moving the short story forward in time by using the words 'at present' so that the reader thinks of the implication of the future. This is a time reference and offers hope for both Della and the reader, foreshadowing a brighter more hopeful future, where they can look forward together to enjoying the presents and each others love. Her feelings will be mollified and any damage done by the sad realization of what they have done will be limited by cheering themselves up in looking forward to a happier time when they can enjoy their presents.
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