Does O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi" bring emotion?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

O. Henry's classic short story "The Gift of the Magi" is certainly a very sweet, tear-jerking allegorical story. The Magi are the three wise men who traveled the long distance from the east into Jerusalem to bestow their most costly gifts on baby Jesus. In "The Gift of the Magi" both husband and wife do the exact same thing. Even though the results of their sacrifices are not what they anticipated, they showed their abundant wealth in love for each other.

In "The Gift of the Magi," Mr. and Mrs. Young are facing financial struggles at Christmastime as a fairly newly married couple. Jim's salary has been reduced by $10 a week, leaving no extra money for things like gifts. Regardless, Della is determined to buy him a gift and decides to sell the one thing she treasures most (other than her husband): her luxuriously long sable-brown hair. She uses the money she earns from selling her hair to buy Jim a chain for an antique gold watch he owns.

Ironically, when Jim comes home, she learns that Jim has sold his watch to buy jeweled tortoise shell combs for her hair. Both husband and wife learn that each sold what was most valuable to themselves to buy what would be most treasured by the other. While neither of them still have their treasures, they have learned that material possessions are not half as valuable as their love for each other.

Hence, the couple is likened to the three Magi because each has learned the value of sacrificing what's most valued for the sake of what's most valuable--love, just as we learn from the narrator's final words in the story:

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.

It's this lesson that makes the story particularly moving and emotional.