The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Describe the situational irony in "The Gift of the Magi," and tell what lesson about life and love you think it teaches Jim and Della.

Expert Answers info

tmcquade eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write127 answers

starTop subject is Literature

The situational irony in "The Gift of the Magi" arises from the fact that both Jim and Della sell their most prized possessions in order to buy the other a special Christmas gift, but the gift each buys is specifically designed for the prized possession each one sold.  Della sells her hair so she can get the money to buy Jim a chain for his watch; Jim sells his watch so he can buy Della the special combs for her hair that she has been wanting for so long.

Jim is the first to recognize the irony.  When he returns from work, he immediately notices that Della has cut her hair:

His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della, at first, is worried that he doesn't like how she looks.  She pleads with him:

"Jim, darling ... don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present.... I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast."

Of course, it's not her looks that Jim is concerned about.  He tells Della: 

"Don't make any mistake, Dell ... about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

When she opens the gift, she immediately sees why he was so taken aback,

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell,...

(The entire section contains 637 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial