Are there any metaphors, similes, or personification in O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"?

2 Answers | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

O. Henry's delightful story of two loving, unselfish, "foolish" young people who sacrifice their most valuable possessions in order to buy something that the other will enjoy has delightful language that abounds in allusions, irony, and other literary devices.  Among these are metaphor and simile.  In the tenth paragraph, for instance, after Della pulls out the pins holding her hair and it falls to its full length, it is described as "rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters," a phrase that is a simile.  And, with humor, O. Henry points to his own metaphor:  "Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings."

After Jim arrives home and opens the door only to see Della with her short hair, he stops as immovable as a setter [simile] at the scent of quail.  For, he has noticed that her hair is short.  He reaches in his pocket and lays the combs down.  Stella hugs them and then says, "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat [simile] and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Then, when Jim receives his platimum watch fob, the "dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit."[metaphor]

One example of personification occurs in this line:

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way to a little to prudence and reason. 

rmhope's profile pic

rmhope | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

O. Henry uses several intriguing metaphors and similes in "The Gift of the Magi," and he uses a little personification. With two intriguing metaphors he compares Della's long hair to the Queen of Sheba's "jewels and gifts" and Jim's watch to all King Solomon's treasures. In this section: "Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher," he compares Della's wheedling to a bulldozer via his choice of verb. The sentence "Down rippled the brown cascade" compares her hair to a waterfall. Of course, the central metaphor of the story compares Della and Jim's selfless love to that of the Magi who brought gifts to the Christ-child.

Here are some of the similes O. Henry weaves into the narrative:

  • "curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy"
  • "he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl"
  • "as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail"
  • "It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both."

One example of personification O. Henry uses is in this sentence: "It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad." It's a humorous way of saying their apartment is poor--the word "beggar" is watching out for the police who pick up beggars off the street. Thus the word "beggar" is personified.

In this story O. Henry uses figurative language to spice up the story and express thoughts in fresh and interesting ways.


We’ve answered 317,556 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question