Compare 'The Last Leaf","The Ransom of Red Chief" and "The Gift of the Magi" similarity and differences

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because all three stories mentioned above exhibit many of the defining elements of O. Henry's work, there are more similarities among them than there are differences. 

All three stories display the following similar qualities: 

—Typical settings and the use of "local color"

O. Henry's stories are often set in New York City as are "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi." Other typical settings are the West and the South, in which "The Ransom of Red Chief" is set. In all of these stories, there is "local color." For instance, O. Henry employs the speech patterns of the common folk of the settings. Such usage adds realism and interest to the narratives.

In "The Last Leaf," the accent of Mr. Behrman adds a quaint touch to this character, and in "The Ransom of Red Chief," the dialect of Sam and Bill suggests that they are not much better educated than the "yokels" of the town that Sam ridicules. This similarity assists the realism and humor of the stories.

—The theme of the unexpected quality of life 

In "The Gift of the Magi," the James Dillingham Youngs have seen a reduction in their income, and because of this situation, neither Della nor Jim has money with which to purchase a Christmas gift. When the young husband and wife make personal sacrifices to buy a gift for each other, the result of their generosity is completely unexpected.

In "The Last Leaf," Johnsy says she will die when the last ivy leaf falls from a vine she sees outside her window. After trying everything that she can think of to motivate Johnsy to live, Sue despairs of believing that the last leaf on the ivy vine will not fall off in the bitter cold as the others have done, and that Johnsy will regain her will to live. However, during the night Old Behrman makes the ultimate sacrifice so that Johnsy will be encouraged to fight to live when she sees that the ivy leaf is apparently still on the vine the next morning.

In the humorous story, "The Ransom of Red Chief," much is unexpected. The two kidnappers, Sam and Bill, are convinced that the people of Summit, Alabama, will be easy to exploit. However, Ebenezer Dorset outsmarts them, and his son that they kidnap terrorizes them. These unexpected circumstances certainly affect the men as they receive no ransom money; instead, they must pay Mr. Dorset to take back his wild and unruly child.

—The ironic reversal

All three stories have a surprise ending. In "The Gift of the Magi," Jim and Della have unselfishly sacrificed their most prized possessions so that they can purchase gifts for each other. Unfortunately, the Christmas gifts that they give each other are for those sacrificed possessions. In "The Last Leaf," there is one ivy leaf which has not fallen. Seeing what she believes is a tenacious leaf, Johnsy decides that she wants to live after all. Unfortunately, Johnsy and Sue later learn that Mr. Behrman has gone out into the frigid weather to paint a leaf on the building's wall that Johnsy would be sure to see. Further, the little man subsequently dies from pneumonia. Finally, in "The Ransom of Red Chief," Sam and Bill are, ironically, the ones who pay a ransom, not the father of Red Chief. And, they leave Alabama poorer, not richer, for the experience.

—There is a distinct difference in the tone and theme of one story from the other two:

While there is a romantic quality to "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Last Leaf," the rather satiric humor of "The Ransom of Red Chief" differs from the others in tone as the character of Sam is apparently ridiculed.

Love and true friendship are developed as themes in "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Last Leaf," but in "The Ransom of Red Chief" Sam allows his supposed friend Bill to be terrorized by the wild child of Ebenezer Dorset. In one of the last incidents of Red Chief's terror, Sam hears Bill screaming as Red Chief prepares to scalp Bill. While he does get the knife away from the boy, Sam seems rather unsympathetic and selfish:

Just at daybreak, I was awakened by a series of awful screams from Bill. . . .
It's an awful thing to hear a strong, desperate, fat man scream incontinently in a cave at daybreak.

Shortly after this incident, Sam gets up before dawn because he remembers that Red Chief has declared that he is to be burned at the stake "at the rising of the sun." Sam denies that he is afraid, but he selfishly leaves Bill to his own devices as he claims that he needs to "go up on top of this mountain and reconnoiter."

dalepowell1962 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi" both are set in New York City while "The Ransom of Red Chief" takes place in the American South.  "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi" both deal with sacrifices, whereas "The Ransom of Red Chief" deals with greed, albeit in a comical way.

"Red Chief" is different from the other two in tone as well.  All three stories are similar in the sense that they carry O Henry's trademark surprise ending.

Differences in the three would be in the types of love illustrated.  In "Red Chief", the kidnappers are trying to play off the love between parent and child but, of course, they are surprised.  "Magi" has a lot of sentiment in the true meaning of love.  "The Last Leaf" shows the devotion of an acquaintance to a young girl who ultimately sacrifices his life in what might seem a foolish gesture to most.