illustration of two people, a woman and a man, looking at one another in profile with an ornate hair comb between them

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

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Describe how the theme of sacrifice and love is developed in the text.

The theme of sacrificial love is developed in the text of the short story "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry in stages. The author first introduces the couple's poverty, then their love for each other, then the hair and the watch that they each value so much, and finally their willingness to sacrifice their most valuable possessions to bring Christmas joy to their loved one.

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In the beautiful short story "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, sacrificial love is the main theme, and the author develops it masterfully. First, he introduces the couple Jim and Della Young. He makes it clear that they are very poor and that they have to scrape for every penny. Their couch is shabby, their furnishings are sparse, Jim's salary is small, and they live in a cheap apartment.

However, the author also makes it clear that Jim and Della love each other very much. Despite their poverty, they are happy, because they have each other. Della is heartbroken that she cannot buy Jim a Christmas present that suitably expresses her love, and later, we find out that Jim feels the same way.

O. Henry then lets readers know that Jim and Della each have one possession that they value above all others. For Jim, it is a gold watch, a family heirloom that had previously been his father's and grandfather's. For Della, it is her long, shiny, luxuriant hair.

We see, then, that the author has beautifully developed the text to set up the situation. Della and Jim are poor, they want to express their love to each other through an impressive Christmas present, and they each have one thing that they consider valuable.

We are ready now for one of O. Henry's famous surprise endings. To show her love, Della sacrifices the beautiful hair that she values so much so that she can buy an expensive fob for Jim's watch. At the same time, to show his love, Jim sells the valuable watch that has been in his family for generations so that he can buy Della some expensive combs to go in her hair. Each one's sacrifice has negated the value of the other's gift.

We can see, though, that in the end it is not the gifts that are so valuable. The real value is in the sacrificial love that prompted the gift-giving.

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Jim and Della are both willing to sacrifice the thing that is most important to them so that they can buy a beautiful gift worthy of being owned by the other. Della sells her beautiful hair so that she can buy Jim a watch chain to go with his prized watch. Jim sells his beautiful watch so that he can buy Della a lovely pair of hair combs that she wanted when she saw them in a store window. In the end, the narrator brings up the Biblical magi: the three kings—wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in the manger.

And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

The narrator says that Jim and Della are actually "the wisest," wiser even than the Biblical magi, because they know something that those men did not: that sacrifices made for love are more meaningful than those gifts that don't involve sacrifice. The Biblical magi were kings and rich men who did not have to sacrifice in order to present Jesus with expensive gifts. However, Jim and Della are poor, and they have to sacrifice a great deal in order to purchase their presents. Their sacrifices made for love mean more.

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The love that Della and Jim have for each other is expressed in the story through sacrifice. Each sacrifices something of value to buy the other a Christmas gift. Della sells some of her beautiful locks of hair to a fancy salon to buy Jim a chain for his watch. Jim sells his gold watch to buy Della a set of combs she's had her eye on for some time.

Although it may seem that their sacrifices are in vain—both Della and Jim end up with what are essentially useless gifts—in actual fact, they are still able to give each other the most important gift of all, the gift of love. In buying each other Christmas presents, Jim and Della may have sacrificed something precious, but they didn't sacrifice the most precious thing of all. In fact, If anything, they not only maintained their love for each other, but considerably strengthened it.

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The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry tells the story of a couple who are willing to give up their most precious possessions in order to give a Christmas present to the other. This story shows that true love is selfless and puts the needs and desires of the other before one's own desires. 

Della is determined to buy a watch fob for her husband, Jim, for Christmas. In order to raise the money, she sells her beautiful, long hair. When Jim comes home from work, he presents a set of gorgeous combs for Della, combs she can no longer use. He admits that he sold his precious watch to buy his wife her gift. 

Even though this couple is extremely poor, the wealth of their love overcomes all material hardships they face. The gifts that they give one another are useless, and yet, it is not the gifts that make their Christmas so remarkable. The items themselves are only tokens of the sacrificial love that Della and Jim have for each other. Indeed, the sacrifice that each makes is a greater gift than the watch fob or the combs.

This incredible love is compared to the wisdom of the magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus at Bethlehem. Henry ends the story with "let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest ... They are the magi." This sacrificial love is greater than the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that was given to baby Jesus. 

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