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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Explain the characters of Jim and Della in the story "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry.

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The perfect couple—O. Henry created a real love story with a twist in “The Gift of the Magi.” The setting is New York City in the early 1900s. The Young apartment is the specific setting.  Finding the perfect gift is at the center of the story.


Della Young has a  problem.  It is Christmas Eve, and she does not have a gift for her wonderful husband Jim. She wants to give Jim the perfect gift which Della has been saving for several weeks to get the $1.87 that she does have.  Her husband’s salary does not go far, and she is worried sick. Della unashamedly deals hard bargains with the grocer and the butcher, so that she can have a few extra cents at the end of the week.

Della loves her husband.  The characterization of Della would include a rather emotional young woman.  She sits down and has a good cry because she does not know how to get the needed money for her present.  Apparently, she does not have anyone with which to talk things over.  

The Young’s apartment is rather shabby and old.  It makes no difference to Della because she shares her home with Jim. Their furniture and clothes indicate that they are not impoverished, but close to it. 

Della is an attractive, slender young woman.  Her crowning glory was her beautiful long hair.  It falls below her knees when she lets it down.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. A Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

As Della looks out the window, she comes to a difficult decision.  She will sell her hair to buy the gift for her husband.  The strength that this decision took comes from the love that Jim had for her beautiful hair.  Della does not know what Jim’s reaction will be.

She sells the hair and buys a watch fob to hold her husband’s watch. Her one worry now is that Jim will still think that she is pretty without her hair. 


Less information is given in the story about Jim.  His full name is James Dillingham Young. He is twenty –two years old. He works hard and brings home $20.00 per week. His one grand possession was a watch that had been passed through the men in his family. 

Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

His watch gave Jim joy.

Della describes Jim as quiet but valuable.  Like Della, he is thin but handsome.  His clothes were somewhat ragged like Della’s old coat.  Jim seemed serious most of the time. 

Jim was never late; however, on this night, he comes home a little tardy.  Jim reacts strangely to Della’s hair cut. He does tell her that nothing could ever change his love for her.

When the two exchange their gifts and discover that each had sacrificed their most precious possession, they each laugh and decide to put the gifts away until the hair grows back and the watch could be recovered. 

Their gifts were perfect because each gave from their hearts which is the only true gift

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