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.