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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In "The Gift of the Magi," what is the moral lesson of the story?

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One of the moral lessons of "The Gift of the Magi" is that we often don't value what we truly should. Jim loves Della, her hair included, and he doesn't need a fancy watch chain for Christmas to make him happy--he already has a wife he adores. Della, for her part, loves Jim and doesn't need hair combs to make her happy. In other words, they already have what truly makes them happy--each other--and the Christmas presents are secondary. The sacrifices they make for each other, as Della sells her hair and Jim sells his watch, show how much they love each other and show the sacrifices they are willing to make for each other. This love and willingness to sacrifice what means the most to them for the sake of the other person are their true presents, not material goods. 

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One moral of this story is that we will give up possessions that mean a great deal to us because of love for another.  Another moral is that happiness does not depend on money, but on love.  Still another is that the true spirit of Christmas is that of giving, not of getting.  Of course, the author, who is famous for ironic twists in his stories, has structured the story so that each has sacrificed for the other in a way that makes each gift useless to the other, showing us that the sacrifice is the demonstration of love, giving, and the spirit of Christmas, not the "value" of the item purchased. 

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What moral lessons are emphasized in "The Gift of the Magi"?

O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi" is among the simplest and most elegant short stories in American literature. The surprise ending was one of O. Henry's favorite literary devices. Stressing the idea that love is more valuable than gifts, the story revolves around a poor couple, Della and Jim, who possess only two things of material value--her long, lustrous hair and his gold watch. Their love of these objects inspires them to act in slightly foolish and arrogant ways, as O. Henry writes: "Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. 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." 

To buy a watch chain for Jim, Della sacrifices her hair, which she sells. Meanwhile, Jim sells his watch to buy Della hair combs. He is shocked to see Della without her long hair, but he quickly explains that he loves her no matter what. He is only surprised because she cannot enjoy the combs he bought her. She shows him his new watch chain, but he puts off telling her that he has sold his watch. They have two gifts for Christmas that they cannot use at the moment.

The story concludes with O. Henry's reference to the magi, the wise men who brought Jesus gifts on the first Christmas. He says, "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." He means that Della and Jim have shown that they are willing to sacrifice what each cares about most for the other. While their Christmas gifts did not work out, they have the ultimate gift of knowing that they love each other and value each other more than they value their material possessions. While poor, they are, simply put, rich in love. 

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What is the moral of "The Gift of the Magi" and four reasons for your choice?

The moral, of "The Gift of the Magi" is that unselfish love is the greatest of all gifts, and those who realize this fact are the wisest.  This theme is explicitly stated by O. Henry at the end: "I have lamely related...the chronicle of two foolish children...who most unwisely sacrified for each other the greatest treasure of their house.  But....of all who give gifts these two were the wisest...They are the Magi." (1)

Della's love for Jim is true as she unselfishly cuts her most prized personal possession, her beautiful, long hair. Afterwards, "the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings" because she happily searches for Jim's gift, a gift like him...grand." She cannot wait to give this gift to her husbannd as a token of her love, yet she worries that he will be angered by her short hair.(2)

Jim has made an equal sacrifice for Della, having sold his prized watch to buy combs for her lovely tresses.  When Della opens the gift, she cries at first, but hugs them and says with resolve, "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"  so that he will not feel badly about buying them.(3)  Then, when Jim opens his presents, he does not regret that he no longer has a watch on which to put Della's chain.  Instead, he suggests that they put away the presents for a while: (4) "...suppose you put the chops on."  Although there are no gifts of material value, both give of their love, the most important and valuable of gifts.

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