What is the point of view in "The Gift of the Magi?"  

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lentzk's profile pic

Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The term 'point of view' describes the perspective from which the story is told.  In "Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, the point of view is third person omniscient; the narrator, like a comfortable, old storyteller, explains and describes the fictional account of Della and Jim at Christmas time.  A third-person perspective is a narrator who tells the story without being involved in the actual events, and the word 'omniscient' emphasizes the fact that the narrator knows and sees more than the characters themselves.  For example, in the end of the story, the narrator alludes to the sad outcome of the gifts and the meaning of the Magi, before the reader, Della, or Jim know the outcome of the gifts. 

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sciftw's profile pic

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

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For most of the story, the narrative perspective is told from the third person omniscient perspective.  

The narrator is telling a story about two people. The narrator is not a part of the story, so the narration uses the pronouns "he" and "she" when referring to Jim and Della.  

There is a time when the narration does move into a first person narration, though. Those are the times when the narrator directly addresses the reader. The final paragraph is a good example of when the narrative moves from a third person perspective to a first person perspective. A reader will notice that the narrator all of a sudden uses "I" in order to make himself/herself an active participant in the story.  

And here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise.

This final paragraph also drops any pretense of the narrator's neutrality. The line above clearly shows that the narrator has an opinion about Jim and Della.

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mdelmuro's profile pic

mdelmuro | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The narator of "The Gift of the Magi" is, for the most part, third-person limited. While there are lapses into first-person, the narrator does not seem to be another character in the story and does not expand his view beyond Della's, mostly speaking about Jim only when he is in contact with her.

However, the narrator isn't neutral. He sympathizes with the young couple, particularly in describing Della's conundrum when it came to her husband's gift:

"She had put aside as much as she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week is not much. Everything had cost more than she had expected. It always happened like that."

The narrator also sympathizes with Jim, who walks into the room with Della and calls him a "poor fellow" who is "only twenty-two—and with a family to take care of!"

Finally, the narrator discards neurtality and calls both Della and Jim "not wise" in their actions and then calls them the wisest in their intentions because "Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other." 

The narrator's slip into first person on a few occasions—always in order to address the audience—gives the story a fable-like quality. This allows the narrator in the final paragraph to directly describe the major theme in this story in order to give it a sense of universal appeal and importance.

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