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What are the allusions in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry (William Sidney Porter)?I...

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ms1512 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 12, 2010 at 8:09 AM via web

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What are the allusions in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry (William Sidney Porter)?

I know right off hand that there are two-- the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.

Is the Coney Island chorus girl an allusion as well?

What about the part where Della's hair is let down and it is described as "rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters"? Or is that a metaphor, rather?


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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 12, 2010 at 8:27 AM (Answer #1)

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All of your listed allusions are indeed allusions because any allusion refers to something famous.

The "rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters" is a simile, not a metaphor because it is a comparison using like.

The greatest allusion is in the title, The Gift of the Magi, which refers to the sacrificial gifts the wise men gave after their long journey to find the Christ child. Each gift was fit for a king, but given under the humblest of circumstances. Each magi risked a great deal to get their treasure all the way to the baby Jesus. What is so cool about this allusion is how it parallels the journeys and careful efforts of Jim and Della during their gift-giving that Christmas. Think about it, their gifts became worthless. The gifts of the magi that original Christmas became worthless too in that nothing compared to the gift the Christ child was about to heap on humanity.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:51 PM (Answer #2)

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Because many of O. Henry's stories are set in New York at the turn of the century, there are usually references to things or places in this area. Here some local allusions:

  • Coney Island - This is a peninsula on which there are residences and seaside resorts; however, it is most famous for its amusement park and boardwalk. In the setting of the narrative of "The Gift of the Magi" at the beginning of the twentieth century, Coney Island was at its peak with its beach, snack shops, and amusement park, vaudeville-type shows and chorus girls.
  • Madame Sofronie's shop - In the early 1900s, wealthy women liked to wear hairpieces, so poorer women with luxurious hair would sell their hair to such shops as that of Mme. Sofronie, who has probably assumed a French name to seem more cultured.

Other allusions are Biblical:

  • King Solomon of the Old Testament was the second son of King David. When God appeared to him in a dream, telling him he would grant him whatever he asked, Solomon requested understanding and discernment. This request so pleased God that He granted it, but also provided Solomon great riches and power.
  • The Magi - This is the name for the three kings, the three wise men, who followed the star to the humble shelter where Jesus, the Savior, was born. Known as the Magi, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This reference is made in connection with Stella and Jim, who have given gifts gratuitously and without anticipation of any return.


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